AFC Champions League 2021: FC Goa will take immense pride and belief from Al Rayyan draw despite tough road ahead
Coach Juan Ferrando had the unenviable task of dropping two of Goa’s six foreign players in accordance with the AFC Champions League rules and it was top scorer Igor Angulo and leading assist maker Alberto Noguera who faced the axe much to the surprise of many.
As Ivan Gonzalez completed a slide tackle on Moufak Ahmed in the 84th minute, he punched the air with a sense of achievement as if he had scored a goal. If there was one single moment that encapsulated FC Goa on their AFC Champions League debut, it was this one as they drew 0-0 with Qatari club Al Rayyan on a historic night for Indian football. Between transmission blackouts which deprived Indian football fans of a few minutes of the action here and there, the Indian Super League side more than held their own against their more fancied opponents to gain a point in their Group E encounter at the Fatorda stadium in Goa.
Coach Juan Ferrando had the unenviable task of dropping two of Goa’s six foreign players in accordance with the AFC Champions League rules and it was top scorer Igor Angulo and leading assist maker Alberto Noguera who faced the axe much to the surprise of many. Understandably, bolstering the defence was priority and based on this performance, the Spaniard’s decision seems vindicated.
Goa started with what resembled a 4-1-4-1 formation on paper, but their low block and congestion of central areas meant lone striker Ishan Pandita was the only player in the opposition half for most of the game. Their more illustrious opponents, coached by France legend Laurent Blanc, shaped up in a 4-2-3-1 with Algerian international and former FC Porto player Yacine Brahimi playing on the left wing.
After a nervy opening few minutes where possession was needlessly given away while playing out from the back, Goa took control of the midfield with Glan Martins hustling, harrying and breaking up the Al Rayyan attacks. His infectious energy, combined with the coach’s game-plan helped the Indian side push their opponents to the flanks, not allowing them time on the ball and crowding the central areas to avoid getting cut open by through balls. Gonzalez, one of the five foreign players picked, showcased his ability to dribble out of the Al Rayyan press, getting his team out of sticky situations time and time again. His ball-playing abilities complement his defensive partner James Donachie who is known to be more robust in the challenge.
Al Rayyan kept probing without threatening Dheeraj Singh between the Goa goalposts as the final balls were lacking on a number of occasions. The one time Naif Al-Hadhrami was through, the young keeper smothered the ball before a clean attempt at goal was possible. Goa matched their opponents possession-wise throughout the first half, and even managed to get a shot on target through Alex Romario which was put behind for a corner. Centre forward Pandita showcased the defensive side of his game, grafting and pressing the Al Rayyan defenders while Jorge Ortiz, playing wide on the left, was the go-to man if his team needed an out ball and a man to carry it forward.
As the second half wore on, the Qatari side had much more of the ball and created a number of good opportunities, Ivorian striker Yohan Boli coming close with a header which was saved by Dheeraj. Coming into the game, the Gaurs had nothing to lose but as the game drew to a close, the sense that something could be actually be gained from this encounter, started dawning upon them. But with that came the nerves and the experience of players like skipper Edu Bedia was needed to slow the game down and win professional fouls wherever necessary just to have a breather.
Goa did not let the occasion get to them and stayed true to their philosophy when many others would have resorted to punting the ball up the field at every given opportunity. Playing out from the back isn’t everyone’s cup of tea and it takes courage, technical ability and a good sense of your surroundings to successfully implement it. This is where coach Ferrando seems to have succeeded as majority of the squad, Indian players included, are extremely comfortable on the ball and don’t mind passing it out even when faced by a press.
The likes of Brandon Fernandes and Glan Martins shone alongside Edu, winning the midfield battle against more experienced opponents. Brandon’s technical ability seems to be one of the reasons Ferrando decided against opting for Noguera, with the Goan lad completing more than 90 percent of his passes. Martins, another local boy, seemed to be everywhere with his curly mop of hair flying as he harried the Al Rayyan players into mistakes and was surely the pick of the bunch for a man-of-the-match award.
Next up for Goa will be Al Wahda of the UAE, who will be smarting after a 0-1 defeat against Iranian side Persepolis. It is going to get difficult with every game but the Gaurs will take immense pride and belief from this performance to make sure they leave an imprint on their maiden foray on the continental stage.
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