Ferrando ready for AFC Champions League challenge with utter seriousness and intent

FC Goa are slated to kick-start their AFC Champions League campaign against Al Rayyan SC on Wednesday and the preparations are in full swing for the Gaurs ahead of the club’s first experience in continental competition. The Gaurs became the first Indian team to book their berth in the group stage of the AFC Champions League after clinching the 2019-20 Hero Indian Super League’s Winners Shield and their head coach Juan Ferrando admitted that his side will head into the competition with a lot at stake.

It’s a lot of responsibility. It’s my first time in Asia, in India, and at this club. After six months, I know the players and the club but it’s a big responsibility because this is not a local competition but an international one. It will be like a presentation of Indian football to the world. All the players have to be focused to work as a team, to be ready for 90 minutes. The most important thing is to take everything day by day. It’s not just about the first or the second game; there are six games which are very important for us,” Ferrando said on the ‘Kicks For Free’ podcast produced by Hindustan Times.

The Gaurs will face the likes of Qatari outfit Al Rayyan SC, United Arab Emirates’ Al Wahda as well as Iran’s most successful team Persepolis FC twice each in Group E (West Region) and Ferrando is well aware of the task at hand that awaits his side in such a challenging group. “I know it’s very, very difficult. They have very good players and a lot of experience in this competition. For them, it is a big moment to participate in the group stage and progress to the next round,” he said.

“For us, it’s a great opportunity to learn, get some experience, and for our local players to know about international competition. It’s different -- you need to focus for 90 minutes, work like a team. In the Hero ISL, you have two-three players who have good crosses, good dribbling, they can help the team; in international competitions, you need to be a team, that’s very important,” Ferrando added.

The Spanish head coach was also quick to bat away suggestions that playing all their group matches in Goa would be advantageous for the Gaurs. In fact, all Group E games will be staged in Goa, which recently hosted the 2020-21 Hero ISL too. “[It helps] when you have supporters. When the stadium is empty, you play here, at Stamford Bridge or at Old Trafford, it’s the same. Statistics show that normally teams that play at home win more but now without supporters, the balance is similar,” he said.

Ferrando also admitted that his players must do more defensively in the AFC Champions League having conceded 25 times over the course of the 2020-21 Hero ISL season during which they managed just four clean sheets. It’s difficult but we are thinking of playing the same style. If we concede one goal, our target is to do two. I understand the big squad of the opponents and for us, we do need to work more in defence. The responsibility is not only for Dheeraj Singh, Naveen Kumar, Adil Khan and James Donachie [goalkeepers and defenders], it lies with everyone. If Ishan Pandita plays as No. 9, he is our first defence. This is our responsibility, and it is very important,” the 40-year-old said.

“It is necessary to improve more in set-pieces because we know we have a problem, but this problem is not because they are bad players. Sometimes it is necessary to learn, like when to go for zonal marking and when to go for man-to-man. We have a lot of young players who don’t know these details.”

Ferrando also insisted that FC Goa don’t intend to change their style of play irrespective of their opponents. “Around this time one year ago when I was talking to Akshay Tandon [FC Goa’s President and co-owner] and Ravi Puskur [FC Goa’s Director of Football], they told me, ‘be clear, FC Goa want to play in one style, in the AFC Champions League, Hero ISL and the Super Cup next season’. Of course, we will change some details. Of course, it is necessary to focus on defence, details in the build-up, pressing, and position in attack. But the style, more or less, will be the same because it is in our minds. We love football this way,” he said.

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