FC Goa face high-flying Persepolis FC in their toughest AFC Champions League test yet
Six-time Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) semi-finalists FC Goa face their biggest challenge yet in the AFC Champions League when they face Iranian giants Persepolis FC in their Group E (West Region) match at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on Tuesday. After earning commendable goalless draws in their previous two matches against Qatar’s Al Rayyan SC and UAE’s Al Wahda, the Gaurs are at present second in the group with two points -- behind leaders Persepolis FC, who have won both their matches so far to accumulate all six points.
FC Goa had a jittery start to their campaign against Al Rayyan SC last week but improved by leaps and bounds in their last match against Al Wahda. On another day, they could have beaten the Emirati outfit, if truth be told. Goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh, Edu Bedia, Ivan Gonzalez, James Donachie all had a great game and Brandon Fernandes even hit the post once. Following the match against Al Rayyan SC, Gaurs head coach Juan Ferrando had admitted they needed to improve in attack, and that improvement was there for all to see against Al Wahda.
While there is no doubt that FC Goa will head into Tuesday’s game much more confident, the challenge they are facing is also their biggest yet in the prestigious competition. The Iranians are presently on top of their domestic league after 20 matches and have an intimidating record in the AFC Champions League. They are the most seasoned team in the group having played the final twice in last three years. They are the most successful team in Iran to boot with 13 top-flight trophies to their name, and they have retained the title for last four seasons.
In their opening match against Al Wahda they registered a narrow win thanks to a goal from Jalal Hosseini before upping the ante big time against Al Rayyan SC in a 3-1 win as Kamal Kamyabinia and Shahriyar Moghanlou scored once and twice respectively for them.
In light of the fact that FC Goa are playing in the AFC Champions League for the first time in their history – in fact they are the first club ever from India to feature in the group stage of the continental club tournament – their performance so far has been nothing short of extraordinary. It can be safely said that they have punched above their weight in their first two matches and that has raised expectations in no small measure. Tuesday’s game, however, could be crucial in terms of how far they can go in the competition. A favourable result -- even a draw -- can go a long way towards achieving their next-round aspirations.
One thing that has particularly struck one and all about FC Goa so far is their belief in team work, and that has paid dividends – no two ways about it. The formula that Ferrando has devised seems to be working and they need to continue sticking to it. Be that as it may, Yahya Golmohammadi’s Red Army – boasting names like Vahid Amiri and Ahmad Nourollahi -- is unlike any opponent they have faced before and the Gaurs very well know that they will have to play out of their skin in order to pull off yet another positive result.
FC Goa squad:
Goalkeepers: Mohammad Nawaz, Naveen Kumar, Shubham Dhas, Dheeraj Singh
Defenders: Sanson Pereira, Seriton Fernandes, Leander D’Cunha, Iván González (Spain), Mohamed Ali, James Donachie (Australia), Aibanbha Dohling, Saviour Gama, Adil Khan
Midfielders: Edu Bedia (Spain), Glan Martins, Princeton Rebello, Brandon Fernandes, Phrangki Buam, Redeem Tlang, Makan Chothe, Alexander Romario Jesuraj, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Romeo Fernandes
Forwards: Jorge Ortiz (Spain), Devendra Murgaokar, Ishan Pandita
Match starts: 10:30 PM IST
Live telecast: Star Sports Network
Streaming: Disney+ Hotstar VIP and JioTV