FC Goa became the first ISL club to take part in the AFC Champions League…
FC Goa became the first Indian Super League (ISL) club to take part in the group stages of the AFC Champions League (ACL) this year.
They played a total of six matches in Group E at their home ground in Fatorda, Goa, behind closed doors and managed to register three points.
In a group that consisted of Iran’s Persepolis (group winners), UAE’s Al Wahda (runners-up) and Qatar’s Al Rayyan, the Gaurs finished third.
Here are the takeaways from FC Goa’s historic campaign.
The difference in standard
FC Goa got to know the difference in the standard of football played in India and abroad in the group games in the 2021 ACL. Their opponents were often a class apart and technically superior on the field and despite the Gaurs’ resistance till the final whistle in each game, the audience was able to gauge where their team stands in terms of quality.
It was a big lesson in football for Ferrand and co and there is no shame in not winning a single game from Group E. It was a difficult group and it was the first time an Indian club was being part of Asia’s premier competition. This is just the beginning for Indian clubs. And the fact that they managed to get three points and did not finish last in the group deserves some credit.
Dheeraj is BACK
The biggest positive for FC Goa from their Asian campaign was the performance of Dheeraj Singh. The 20-year-old played nine matches for Goa after signing for the club from ATK Mohun Bagan in the January transfer window of the 2020-21 ISL season.
He was signed as a replacement of Mohammad Nawaz who is expected to join Mumbai City next season. And despite his initial struggle in the league campaign, the former Kerala Blasters keeper rose to the challenge at the Asian level.
He had the best save percentage for any player who has played a minimum of three matches in the league (86.2%). He had also faced the most shots on target (29) and had also made the most saves, eight more than any other player in his five appearances.
— #ACL2021 (@TheAFCCL) April 30, 2021
In the one game in which he was rested, Goa conceded four goals due to errors by his replacement Naveen Kumar who had a forgettable outing. After failing to play a single game in one and a hald seasons in Kolkata since leaving Kerala Blasters, Dheeraj seems to have finally found his feet (or gloves).
Physique and Fatigue
The physical attributes of the Indian players were tested against the likes of Al Rayyan, Al Wahda and Persepolis. They were often bossed off the ball with ease by their opponents and the Indian footballers struggled to dominate the field for long period due to the same.
With the COVID-19 guidelines forcing the group games to be played in Goa behind closed doors and so close together – 6 games in 15 days! – the players were pushed to the extremes. It must be noted that FC Goa have never played six games against top-quality, demanding opponents within 15 days.
It was the same for all teams but they were better used and equipped to deal with such a challenge and continue to play with the same intensity. There were moments were Goa had good phases during these games but the fact is Goa struggled to remain in the game for 90 minutes and that proved to be the difference. However, it is all part of a learning experience.