Brandon: The belief and confidence in our own abilities have taken an upswing after AFC Champions League
Brandon Fernandes had a whale of a time in the 2021 AFC Champions League. FC Goa scored two goals in their six Group E (West Region) matches and both were Brandon’s assists. First against Iran’s Persepolis FC in the first leg and then against Qatar’s Al Rayyan SC in the second leg. Brandon could have scored one of his own against the Iranian giants but Hamed Lak’s brilliance in goal denied him from inside the box shortly after Edu Bedia’s opener. Even against United Arab Emirates’ Al Wahda in the first leg, Brandon’s first-time shot from just inside the box hit the frame of the goal. He was really close to scoring on those two occasions!
All in all, he had an impressive campaign as FC Goa, against all odds, finished third in the group ahead of Al Rayyan SC. The 26-year-old midfielder has been with the Gaurs four seasons now having joined them ahead of the 2017-18 Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL), and during this time he has really gone from strength to strength. Indiansuperleague.com recently sent him a few questions by email regarding his campaign in the AFC Champions League as well as that of FC Goa. Here are his replies.
How was the mood in the dressing room ahead of FC Goa’s historic debut in the AFC Champions League?
I think the phrase ‘nervous anticipation’ would describe it quite aptly. We were looking forward to playing the AFC Champions League since the beginning of the season and when it was finally about to take place, it felt kind of surreal.
We knew we would be playing against some really good teams and some of the best players in Asia. We understood that we were representing not only FC Goa but the hopes and prayers of the entire country. So, we were really focused going into the first game and ready to give our all.
Tell us about that brilliant ball from you against Persepolis FC that led to FC Goa’s first goal in the competition. What were your thoughts in the lead-up?
Well, I looked in the direction of Edu Bedia and he was pointing towards a space that he would like to attack. I knew that Edu was capable of making some really good runs from these kinds of situations. I anticipated the run and looked to put enough pace on the ball for him to flick it on, and that’s exactly what happened. That was a brilliant moment.
Also shed some light on your ball to Jorge Ortiz against Al Rayyan SC. And how disappointed was the team after conceding that late goal that denied the Gaurs what could have been their first win?
Well, when I received the ball from Glan Martins, I looked up and Jorge was making a run. I was getting closed down quickly and I knew I had to play an early ball in. My instincts led me to play it over the top. Thankfully, it was on the spot and so was Jorge with his finish.
Conceding a late goal in that game was, of course, not pleasant. We had done really well till then and were worthy of the three points but these kinds of things happen in football. You have to just take it on the chin and move on.
What really hurt was the fact that we knew that the country was going through a really difficult time [referring to the second wave of the Covid-19 pandemic]. Before the game, we really set out to play that game and put some smiles on the faces of our fellow countrymen. That really hurt.
What has been your biggest takeaway(s) from the competition?
There are so many. We grew in confidence with each passing game and by the end of the competition, a draw against the likes of Al Rayyan and Al Wahda were considered disappointments -- the narrative had changed.
It was also a vindication that we can truly play at this level without compromising our philosophies. We had to defend and play without the ball a lot more than what we are used to. However, we kept believing in ourselves, prepared well for every game tactically and were able to do most things right on most nights. This was a great lesson as to how team football can help overcome any difficulties.
Do you think this AFC Champions League experience is going to help FC Goa immensely in Hero ISL 2021-22?
There is no doubt about that. We knew the margins for error were really low and for us to get the best out of ourselves, we had to find our rhythm. That’s something we were able to do.
The belief and confidence in our own abilities have also taken an upswing. These things should bode well for the coming season.