After a dream performance in goal, Dheeraj backs FC Goa to continue the good work
FC Goa custodian Dheeraj Singh became the club’s first-choice goalkeeper during Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21 and was in inspired form during their goalless draw against Al Rayyan SC on their AFC Champions League debut at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa on Wednesday night. The young Indian shot-stopper came to his side’s rescue whenever called upon and made important saves for Juan Ferrando’s side.
The draw and the subsequent point was a historic moment for Indian football, and Dheeraj admitted that it was ‘one of the best moments’ of his still nascent football career. "It was a great opportunity for me and the entire FC Goa team [first Indian club to play in the group stage of the prestigious continental competition] because we represented FC Goa and the nation at once. Getting a clean sheet is obviously a great feeling for the goalkeeper and the defence. It shows how you went about the defensive work. Obviously, it was a great feeling and I feel last night was one of the best moments in my playing career," he said in an interview to All India Football Federation (AIFF).
"It was a very good game and we knew that it was going to be difficult. All the boys put up a great effort. We gave our best as a team and I think it is a big achievement and a good result for us. It was a great start to the AFC Champions League and we are looking forward to the next match," Dheeraj added.
Looking ahead to the rest of the matches in Group E (West Region), Dheeraj hopes that FC Goa can kick on. "Getting a point at the start of the tournament gives you confidence. I am hoping that our players will be more aware of the level, so we should be preparing really well, and we are looking forward to delivering more. No matter what the result is, we will try to give our best," he said.
Their clash against Al Rayyan SC saw Dheeraj face the likes of Yacine Brahimi, who has experience of playing in European countries like France, Spain and Portugal. That said, the young Indian goalkeeper wasn’t fazed by the task at hand. "I prepare myself in a really calm and normal way. I didn't get much excited before the match started and I tried to control myself," he said.
He then went on to reveal his approach in the build-up to FC Goa’s AFC Champions League bow. "I prepared myself in a different way. During the Hero ISL, I used to watch the videos of other teams. But for the last match, I just watched the set-pieces, and I didn't go through the individual clips because I wanted to play my natural game. I wanted to prepare for every situation that could come," Dheeraj said.
The 20-year-old goalkeeper’s performance against Al Rayyan SC didn’t go unnoticed by opposition coaches either and even earned him plaudits from Al Wahda FC head coach Henk ten Cate, whose team the Gaurs play next on Saturday night.
“They are a very well organised team with a very good defensive centre. They have a really, really good goalkeeper too. So, we will be facing good opponents who already have a point, and we don’t. But, one win can change the whole thing,” ten Cate said in his pre-match press conference on Friday.