The AFC Champions League may have some of the biggest names in Asia, competing for the top prize, but FC Goa, the first-ever Indian representatives in Asia’s apex club competition, are right in there giving them a tough fight, and deservedly so, feels Yahya Golmohammadi, the head coach of potential title challengers Persepolis FC.
Having played two matches each, Persepolis currently stand at the top of Group E of the AFC Champions League with six points to their name. However, debutants FC Goa have been a surprise package, as they occupy second spot on the table, having earned two points from two goalless draws. Now, the top two sides in Group E are all set to face-off against each other at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Goa, a match that kicks-off at 10.30 PM IST on Tuesday, April 20, 2021.
“I saw both their matches, and they have been really working (hard), and been running a lot. It’s (FC Goa’s position on the table) not only surprising for us, but also for everyone else in the ACL,” said Golmohammadi on the eve of the match.
“From the mental aspect, they are on a real high, and they have been doing well on the technical aspect as well. It is not by accident that they stopped two good teams. They did it on merit,” continued Golmohammadi. “It will not be easy against them tomorrow. We need to concentrate hard because our rivals are very good at counter-attacking.”
Meanwhile, FC Goa have been riding the high waves after two draws against strong sides like Al Rayyan and Al Wahda. Ahead of their match against Persepolis, FC Goa head coach Juan Ferrando said that it was akin to a “dream” for his side.
“This (playing at this level) is like a dream come true for us. We are just taking it game by game,” said Ferrando. “For us, it’s all about the Persepolis game right now. We are taking it game by game, and we are focused.”
FC Goa’s goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, who has impressed one and all with his performances, keeping two clean sheets in as many ACL appearances so far, believes that the playing time he has got at FC Goa has helped build his confidence.
“The World Cup (FIFA U-17) was a big thing for me, and that certainly helped build confidence. But for a young goalkeeper like me, it’s important to keep playing games. Luckily, I have been able to do that since I came to FC Goa,” said Dheeraj.
While he has faced difficult times in the recent seasons, Dheeraj feels that they have helped transform him into a better player.
“You don’t get everything as a player, and you need to use the difficult moments as a learning process as a player and as a human being,” said Dheeraj. “Since I’ve moved to Goa, I have worked hard, and the coach loves that I do that and play my natural game. That has helped me regain my confidence.”
While Goa currently occupy second spot in Group E, merely a second-place finish in the Group Stage does not guarantee qualification into the knockout stage. Only three best second-placed teams from the West Asian Groups – Groups A, B, C, D and E – will progress to the knockout stage. However, Ferrando is not thinking that far ahead about qualification just yet.
“From my point of view, the most important game is the next one, and we play Persepolis next. I love this competition, but we need to take it step by step. We will try to get more points, but it’s about the mentality. The players need this experience (of playing at this level),” stated Ferrando.
“It will not be easy, because Persepolis have a lot of experience already in the ACL. It is necessary in this case, that we work three times more than them. At the end, we need to maintain focus every second, tomorrow, or we may have big problems,” he said.