Ferrando: Tuesday’s game against Persepolis FC is most important so far

Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) powerhouse FC Goa will take on Iran’s Persepolis FC in their third AFC Champions League outing at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on Tuesday. The Gaurs will be looking to continue their strong start to life in the continental competition, having held both Qatar’s Al Rayyan SC and UAE’s Al Wahda to goalless draws in their first two matches. They are currently second in Group E (West Region) with two points to their name – behind the Iranian giants who have won both their matches so far.  

Ahead of Tuesday’s tie, Gaurs head coach Juan Ferrando spoke about the importance of the contest against the two-time AFC Champions League finalists. “Every game we have played has been important to me. For now, the most important game for me is the one coming up tomorrow against Persepolis,” the 40-year-old said at the pre-match press conference on Monday.

Facing a side that has a lot of AFC Champions League pedigree, Ferrando understands the challenge that lies ahead for his team. “Tomorrow is a very difficult game because Persepolis have a lot of experience. They have players with a lot of experience in this competition. They played in the last final. They are a very strong team because they’ve played together a lot of times, for many seasons. Our squad, more or less, has been playing together just for a few months,” said the Spaniard.

FC Goa have not conceded a goal so far but then they haven’t scored either. When asked if the team is missing the striking ability of 2020-21 Hero ISL Golden-Boot-winner Igor Angulo or the creativity of DHL-Winning-Pass-of-the-League winner Alberto Noguera, Ferrando said: “Of course I miss Alberto, I miss Igor Angulo. But, in this case we took this decision as this is the rule of the AFC Champions League [four foreigners in the squad and one of them should be from an AFC-affiliated country]. We’ll try to work with Redeem [Tlang), Ishan [Pandita], Jorge [Ortiz], Alexander [Jesuraj] and the rest of the players because I trust this squad.”

Ferrando was joined at the event by in-form goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh, who believes that his brilliant performances for FC Goa so far stem from the fact that he is also representing India when he plays in the AFC Champions League. “I am not only representing the club but also the whole country. It is my duty to save anything that comes in my way. But we work as a team,” he said.

A January signing for the Gaurs during the 2020-21 season, Dheeraj believes his move to FC Goa from ATK Mohun Bagan has done wonders for him. “The move to FC Goa helped me build my confidence back and get into a rhythm. I played [only] one game over the last one and a half years before coming here. I have learnt that not everything falls your way,” he said.

The national team has no dearth of top-class goalkeepers and Dheeraj’s recent performances have drawn comparisons with the likes of Bengaluru FC goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and SC East Bengal custodian Subrata Paul. However, Dheeraj is unwilling to buy into the hype. “My humble request to everyone is to please don’t hype me up. I am doing my best, but I still have a lot to improve,” said the 20-year-old shot-stopper.

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