Dheeraj makes India proud and beats a host of top goalkeepers in the AFC Champions League

Image credit: FCGoaOfficial@Twitter

FC Goa may not have made it beyond the group stage of the AFC Champions League this season but there were a lot of positives for them to take pride in. Dheeraj Singh’s performance in goal was particularly eye-catching.

Dheeraj, who moved to FC Goa from ATK Mohun Bagan during the January transfer window of the 2020-21 Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL), kept goal like a man possessed in the five matches that he played for the Gaurs in the premier continental club competition in Asia. He didn’t feature in one game against Iranian giants and eventual Group E champions Persepolis FC and the Gaurs lost that match 4-0. He also had to be replaced in their last match of the group stage against United Arab Emirates’ Al Wahda on account of injury.

Dheeraj came up with a whopping 26 saves in the competition, maximum by any goalkeeper in the West Region. Mohammed Al Owais (Al Ahli Saudi FC), Ahmed Basil (Al Shorta), Mohammad Rashid Mazaheri (Esteghlal FC) and Adel Al Hosani (Sharjah) trailed the Gaurs custodian with 24, 19, 18 and 17 saves respectively.

“FC Goa's young goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh certainly made a name for himself on his continental debut, pulling off a tournament-leading 26 saves in just five games, among them a number of memorable efforts that earned high praise from impressed observers,” AFC wrote on its official website.

The 20-year-old Gaurs goalkeeper also bagged two clean sheets and was one of the main reasons why Juan Ferrando’s team succeeded in fending off Al Rayyan SC and Al Wahda in their first two matches with goalless draws. Dheeraj also saved a penalty against Persepolis FC when the two teams met the first time.

“Was an honour to represent Indian football and FC Goa at the AFC Champions League. Thank you everyone who supported our journey. We don’t stop here,” Dheeraj tweeted recently.  

While Dheeraj undeniably enjoyed a great time in goal, he experienced a weak moment too and that proved extremely costly in all honesty. Against Al Rayyan SC, in what was the second game between the teams, just when it looked like the Gaurs, leading 1-0 thanks to Jorge Ortiz’s goal in the third minute, will at last register their first win of the group stage, he spilled a cross and that led to the Qatari side’s heart-breaking equaliser in the 89th minute through substitute Ali Farydoon.  

When all is said and done, Dheeraj made FC Goa and India immensely proud in the competition. This was the first time that an Indian club featured in the group stage of the AFC Champions League and having that in mind, his performances were nothing short of great adverts for Indian football. Fans will now hope that this is just the beginning of an outstanding career, and that he goes on to become one of the household names in the country.


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