Juan Ferrando: Playing in the AFC Champions League is a big responsibility

In what was a historic moment for Indian football, Hero Indian Super League (Hero ISL) outfit FC Goa were placed in Group E of the 2021 AFC Champions League following the conclusion of the draw in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia on Wednesday.

The Gaurs made it to Asia’s biggest club football competition after finishing on top of the 2019-20 Hero ISL league table. They have been grouped alongside Iranian club Persopolis FC and Qatar-based club Al Rayyan SC. The fourth spot in the group will be filled by the winner of the West 4 qualifying playoff match.

Speaking during a Facebook Live organized by the club following Wednesday’s draw, FC Goa head coach Juan Ferrando admitted that he was excited about his team’s participation in the competition but understands the responsibility that his team will be carrying.

“The AFC Champions League is the biggest [club] competition in Asia, so we were expecting nothing but the toughest of competitions. It’s a great opportunity for the club and the players to get some really valuable experience. It’s also a big responsibility for us as we are the first-ever club from India to participate in this competition,” the Spaniard said.

“The mentality of my team and the club is to always go for three points in every game we play. The games in the AFC Champions League are going to be very difficult. What we have to do is not move away from the mentality we have and look to be completely focused in every passage of play,” he added.

The Gaurs have been handed a difficult draw with runners-up of last season’s AFC Champions League, Persepolis a part of their group after winning the 2019-20 Persian Gulf Pro League for a fourth straight season. Meanwhile, eight-time Qatar Stars League winners, Al Rayyan finished second in the 2019-20 season and sealed their place in the competition. The playoff match for the fourth spot in the group will be played between UAE-based outfit Al-Wahda FC and Iraq's Al-Zawraa SC.

Looking at Goa’s group, FC Goa’s Director of Football, Ravi Puskur felt that his team needs to brace themselves for a ‘baptism by fire’. “It has been nearly one year since we sealed our place in the [AFC] Champions League. We have been looking forward to this with much excitement and after the draw, I feel we finally have digested the fact that we are going to be a part of the competition. In regard to the draw, I would say it’s ‘baptism by fire’,” he said.

Mr. Puskar also hopes that his side can use the grandest stage in Asian club football as an opportunity to learn by rubbing shoulders with some of the best talents on the continent. “I feel this is a brilliant opportunity for both our Indian and foreign contingent to get exposed to a whole different level of football at the Asian stage. It gives an equal opportunity to the club to get more exposure and experience a different level of fanfare,” he said.

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