AFC Champions League 2021: Optimistic FC Goa face acid test against group leaders Persepolis FC
Persepolis FC were the runners-up in AFC Champions League the last season.
Emboldened by two highly encouraging results in a span of four days, FC Goa will be up for the challenge when it runs into table-topper and last season's runner-up Persepolis FC in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday.
The first Indian outfit to play in the continent's top-tier club competition, FC Goa surpassed expectations when it held AL-Rayyan and Al Wahda to goalless draws in its first two outings of the prestigious league.
Iranian champion Persepolis FC will be a different ball game altogether but judging by its spirited performances in the last one week, the Indian club doesn't look like a team that will get intimated by reputation.
FC Goa will certainly enter the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with the belief that it can go for not just another stalemate but also a win, regardless of the opponents' strengths and past records.
Head coach Juan Ferrando was full of praise for goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh whose heroics against United Arab Emirates' Al Wahda earned FC Goa a 0-0 stalemate in its last Group E match.
The 20-year-old, who guarded the Indian citadel during the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, stole the show with a string of fine saves which forced Ferrando into giving his goalkeeper the moniker 'Superman'.
One of Goa's most influential players so far in the elite tournament, Dheeraj has made a total of nine saves after two matches played and six of those came against Al Wahda.
"I feel like he is the best goalkeeper on matchday two," said Ferrando after his side held Al Wahda.
"Dheeraj's saves were very good. One thing for sure is that he needs to improve on his passing game because we know our style is to build up." Ferrando said Dheeraj, who moved to Goa FC in January this year, is "extremely hardworking" and hard work is one of the few things Goa will need in abundance against a quality opposition like Persepolis FC.
While they have been exceptional in defence, FC Goa's strength lies in the approach adopted by coach Ferrando, including maintaining ball possession and covering ground.
Currently second in the group behind Persepolis which has won both its games against Al Wahda (1-0) and Al-Rayyan (3-1), Goa knows it will face its ultimate test against the Iranian champion.
The 2019 runner-up defeated UAE's Al Wahda 1-0 on Wednesday. Judging by its current form, Yahya Golmohammadi's team has certainly put behind last season's final defeat against Korea Republic's Ulsan Hyundai FC.
Persepolis has not lost in its last five matches in all competitions, with its only blemish being a 1-1 draw against Shahr Khodro in the Iran Pro League in April.
Seyed Jalal Hosseini has been a rock for Persepolis, with the veteran defender scoring a rare goal in the win over Al Wahda and the Iranian giant would definitely like to think that it has its nose ahead against FC Goa.
Least surprised by his team's performances in the first two matches, FC Goa coach Ferrando hopes his wards can produce something similar against the group leader.
"It's not surprising because I know my squad wants to improve every day. It's a pleasure for me to work with this coaching staff, these players.
"We have to control our emotions. It's necessary to repeat some details and change the plan for Persepolis. We have to continue in the same way because it's a very difficult competition," Ferrando said.
Only the group winners are assured of advancing to the next stage of the league.
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