FC Goa ready to make historic AFC Champions League bow against Qatar’s Al Rayyan SC
Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) 2020-21’s semi-finalists FC Goa are ready to create history and become the first-ever Indian outfit to play in the group stage of the AFC Champions League on Wednesday. The Gaurs will face Qatar’s Al Rayyan SC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa in their opening clash of Group E (West Region), which also features the likes of Iran’s Persepolis FC and United Arab Emirates’ Al Wahda.
FC Goa qualified for the AFC Champions League after topping the league stage in Hero ISL 2019-20 and clinching the Hero ISL League Winners Shield. However, a lot has changed since the Gaurs qualified for Asia’s premier club competition. Sergio Lobera, who was FC Goa’s head coach at the start of Hero ISL 2019-20, has since gone on to lead Mumbai City FC to the League Winners Shield and Hero ISL trophy. Several former FC Goa players like Hugo Boumous, Mourtada Fall, Ahmed Jahouh, Amey Ranawade and Mandar Rao Dessai also joined Lobera at Mumbai City FC ahead of their successful Hero ISL 2020-21 campaign.
That said, FC Goa under head coach Juan Ferrando didn’t have an underwhelming Hero ISL 2020-21 season by any stretch of the imagination. They were knocked out in the semi-finals by the Islanders on penalties but gave a good account of themselves over the course of the campaign and lost fewer games than both finalists Mumbai City FC and ATK Mohun Bagan.
The Gaurs will be eager to give a good account of themselves in the AFC Champions League as well and will be hoping to begin their Group E adventure with a good showing and a positive result against Al Rayyan SC in their opening fixture. A free-scoring side with plenty of game-changers on the pitch, FC Goa were joint-second for goal-scorers in Hero ISL 2020-21.
However, they will be without the likes of leading assist-maker Alberto Noguera (8 assists) and their top-scorer Igor Angulo (14 goals) from Hero ISL 2020-21 after the Spanish duo failed to make the cut for the Gaurs’ 28-member squad for the AFC Champions league. In their absence, a lot of the goal-scoring responsibility will be on the shoulders of Jorge Ortiz, who scored six goals and provided an assist for FC Goa in his first season with the club.
He, along with Ishan Pandita and Devendra Murgaokar – both of whom made their presence felt off the bench for FC Goa in Hero ISL 2020-21 – will be entrusted to find the back of the net during the Gaurs’ Asian adventure. Skipper Edu Bedia is another key player for Ferrando’s men in midfield, especially in the absence of the creative Noguera.
A calm and assured presence in midfield, Bedia will hope to control the midfield and dictate the tempo of the contest. Bedia and Glan Martins will be important in their withdrawn midfield roles. Another major boost for FC Goa comes in the form of the returning Brandon Fernandes, who suffered an injury that ruled him out for most of the last Hero ISL season.
Head coach Ferrando will want Brandon to be at his creative best and carve open the defence against Al Rayyan SC, while the likes of Redeem Tlang and Alexander Jesuraj will be encouraged to attack from the wide areas. Defensively, the experienced trio of Ivan González, James Donachie and Adil Khan will be expected to organize the backline and be leaders on the pitch.
Al Rayyan SC, on the other hand, qualified for the AFC Champions League after finishing second in their league in the 2019-20 campaign. Coached by former FIFA World Cup winner Laurent Blanc, they will be aiming to make it beyond the group stage of the AFC Champions League for the first time in the history of the club.
While they possess plenty of talented players in the squad, there are a couple of individuals who can change the tide of the game in the blink of an eye. Algerian winger Yacine Brahimi is one such talent and was the Qatar league’s joint-top scorer with 15 goals besides also bagging five assists in the 2019-20 campaign. Part of the Algerian national team which won the 2019 Africa Cup of Nations, Brahimi can inflict damage if granted space and time on the ball.
Yohan Boli is another game-changer within Al Rayyan SC’s ranks and he will be hoping to continue his rich form that’s seen him contribute 11 goals in 22 matches as well as three assists in the recently concluded season which saw his team finish third. The Ivory Coast international will be entrusted to lead the Qatar side’s line and needless to say, FC Goa’s defence need to keep him on a tight leash.
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
Kick-off time: 10.30 PM (IST)
Live telecast: Star Sports Network
Streaming: Disney+ Hotstar VIP and JioTV