FC Goa becomes the first Indian football team to play in the coveted AFC Champions League on Wednesday. Since finishing at the top of the League in ISL 2019-20, the Gaurs earned their place in the race and won the League Winner Shield. FC Goa, India’s first team to play on the AFC Champions League group stage, punched above its weight to hold Qatar’s al-Rayyan, trained by renowned Laurent Blanc, the World Cup winner, on Wednesday in Goa. Until FC Goa debuted on Wednesday afternoon in the Asian Champions League, much of the conversation focused on what will be a decent margin of loss. It was largely a foreground inference that they would fail. After all, they faced a team – Al Rayyan in Qatar – which was coached by French giant Laurent Blanc and is expected to have several stars at the World Cup next year.
However, FC Goa challenged every chance to steal a draw. The Indians kept their ground and upset Al Rayyan in a match behind closed doors in Margao to make up for a non-goal match at the opening match of Group E. The Asian Champions League is an Elite Club Competition on the mainland. The second stage contest, the AFC Cup, was formerly contested by Indian clubs. The Asian Football Confederation extended the Champions League this year to 40, making it possible for an Indian club to play in this championship.
Goa faced al-Rayyan, who 12 times played in Asia’s Champions League, in his first match at the Qatari Super League. Al Rayyan has players like Iran’s Shoja Khalilzadeh or Algeria’s Yacine Brahimi, a Cup winner from 1998 and coached by former France and Paris’ St Germain boss Blanc – and a World Cup winner who also lifted the African Cup of Nations in 2019. In recent years Indian football has often become overwhelming. In a 2022 World Cup World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup qualifying, the national team performed commendably most noticeably against continental champions Qatar. The clubs of the country too did the AFC Cup decently. The outcome for Wednesday reveals that Indian teams will stand up to much-fancied rivals with a little more hard work. The Asian Champions League makes fewer foreigners in playing 11 compared to the Indian domestic league (four, including Asian-born player) (six including an Asian). The Indian side, trained by Juan Ferrando from Spain, performed in a spirited fashion. The outcome was praised, but the effort was one where the team had its back against the wall and was desperately championed for all 90 minutes when India kept Qatar at a 0–0 draws in Qatar by 2019. The success of FC Goa was nothing other than that. The ISL team of Ferrando was keen on those fundamental concepts. Goa has a specific type of game, whether it is spreading from behind or spreading while with the ballet and becoming compact without it. While they could not duplicate the domination of ball play in India, the tenets of the game were revealed. They had 44% control and an 83% accuracy rating – an acceptable result, with just four international players on the team pitch.
In its next setting on April 17, Goa will face Al-Wahda. The UAE Pro League club has made it through the playoffs to the AFC Champions League, but it does not mean they are a team that is easy. Al Wahda is still in the Champions League on a regular basis and will search for any points on the board after their defeat of 1-0 on Wednesday to Persepolis.
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