For FC Goa, the AFC Champions League 2021 wasn’t just a new competition they were playing for the first time. It was more than that. Much more than that.

The Gaurs represented Indian football’s flag in the greatest club competition in Asia, becoming the first Indian club to do so.

They attracted the eyeballs of an entire nation that’s desperate for success at the big stage and FC Goa provided the country with just that.

Debutants in a competition which is the equivalent of the UEFA Champions League in Europe, the challenge for FC Goa was massive.

Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the Gaurs were presented a chance to play the matches on their own patch at the PJN stadium in Goa, albeit without fans.

A young team led by Juan Ferrando were massive underdogs in the group and although fell way short of qualification, they put up a commendable display finishing third in the group and remaining unbeaten in half of the games in the group stage.

In the process, FC Goa became the first Indian club to score a goal and keep a clean sheet in the competition.

Apart from pride, the tournament provided FC Goa with some new young stars that have established themselves in the Gaurs set-up.

As we close in on another AFC Champions League campaign where Mumbai City FC will be representing India in the continental showpiece, here’s a throwback to FC Goa’s campaign.

FC Goa 0-0 Al-Rayyan

Making their AFC Champions League debut against the much-fancied Al-Rayyan of Qatar, FC Goa showed that they belonged to the competition and weren’t in it to make up the numbers. A disciplined defensive display kept Laurent Blanc’s men at bay but there was more to their performance. FC Goa contributed to the game as an attacking force and also enjoyed spells of possession. The Gaurs just had one shot on target but had a few chances to win the game. A point though against the Qatari club was a solid one especially on debut.

Al-Wahda 0-0 FC Goa

A splendid display from Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem in goal helped FC Goa avoid defeat for the second successive time in the AFC Champions League. The Gaurs showed great organisation against the seasoned campaigners from UAE and thwarted their attack. Ferrando’s men once again showed they weren’t afraid to take their chances on the break and caused the UAE side problems. With two clean sheets in their first two matches, FC Goa established that they could go toe-to-toe with the continent’s elite.

Persepolis 2-1 FC Goa

In Persepolis of Iran, FC Goa faced one of the giants of Asian football. Champions of Iran for a record 14 times, Persepolis were beaten finalists in the AFC Champions League a season before and with a lot to prove. However, a brace FC Goa side gave them a run for their money. The Hero ISL side shocked the Iranian champions by taking an early lead through Edu Bedia in the 15th minute, the first goal scored by an Indian side in the competition.

However, Persepolis produced the perfect response to score two quickfire goals to turn the deficit into a lead in just ten minutes. It looked like FC Goa would crumble under pressure from the Iranians but they remained in the match till the final whistle and lost narrowly by a margin of 2-1. FC Goa had established themselves as a very uncomfortable team to face.

FC Goa 0-4 Persepolis

Ferrando’s men were served a reality check after three outstanding performances as Persepolis ran riot. The Iranian champions raced to a 4-0 lead and saw the game through without much trouble. For FC Goa, this was a harsh introduction to the level of the AFC Champions League.

Al-Rayyan 1-1 FC Goa

A team’s character can be judged by its bouncebackability and FC Goa showed that with another incredible performance in their next match against Al-Rayyan. The Gaurs threatened from the outset and took the lead through Jorge Ortiz in the third minute of the match. Determined to hold on to the lead and a chance to reach the next stage in the competition, the Gaurs kept Blanc’s men at bay for large parts of the match only to succumb to a goal two minutes from time. The draw meant FC Goa’s hopes of qualifying from the group were over but it still gave them a chance to finish the group in third place above Al-Rayyan.

FC Goa 0-2 Al-Wahda

With the foreign players departing early due to a Covid-19 pandemic wave in the country, FC Goa fielded an all-Indian line-up for the match against already qualified Al-Wahda. The young FC Goa side put up a solid display till the hour mark before their resistance was broken. Ferrando’s men eventually lost 0-2 but the performance by an all-Indian side showed what Indian players were capable of at the highest stage.