AFC Champions League: Dheeraj Singh strengthens his reputation as FC Goa's maiden Asian adventure ends
Throughout the competition, FC Goa have shown that they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with premier AFC Champions League sides. And, that they can make up for their lack of experience with their unwavering attitude and spirit.
Al Wahda scraped past FC Goa 2-0 at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda on Thursday. The victory consolidated second spot for the visitors, while the Gaurs ended their debut AFC Champions League campaign with three points from six matches.
FC Goa, with their foreign contingent missing, made a string of changes to their team and never looked comfortable. The away side, on the other hand, dominated the opening exchanges and immediately stamped their authority on the encounter.
Despite enjoying a major chunk of possession, though, Al Wahda were unable to scythe through the FC Goa defensive door as the teams went into the break on level terms.
After the restart, Al Wahda turned a screw and looked much more positive with their attacking play. They were a lot more direct and put the Gaurs’ rear-guard under pressure.
In the 60th minute, Al Wahda finally broke down FC Goa’s defiance when Omar Khribin lashed the ball into the back of the net from inside the box. 30 minutes later, the visitors doubled their tally when Mohammed Barqesh capitalised on some poor defending to bundle the ball over the line.
Here is a look at the talking points from the game.
Al Wahda FC ultimately break down FC Goa’s resistance
Al Wahda came into the game having beaten Persepolis FC in their most recent encounter. Hence, plenty expected them to rock up against FC Goa and trample them, considering the Gaurs were significantly hamstrung.
However, in contrast to those notions, Al Wahda laboured through the first half and despite enjoying a lion’s share of possession, they weren’t really able to carve open the Gaurs.
For large swathes of the period, FC Goa held a strong defensive line and dug deep into their defensive reserves. The hosts were content with sitting back and allowing the visitors possession, meaning Al Wahda were forced to attack down the flanks.
Throughout the first half, Adil Khan and Aibanbha Dohling manned their post well and kept things compact, even as Al Wahda probed for an opening. However, as the clock ticked past the 45-minute mark, the visitors changed tack and ultimately broke down FC Goa’s resistance.
— FC Goa (@FCGoaOfficial) April 30, 2021
During the second half, Al Wahda FC were a lot more proactive in attacking situations. At times, they had players running beyond the ball, whereas on other occasions, they stretched the play and shifted the FC Goa defence from side to side. The visitors also pressed the Gaurs higher up the pitch and forced an already tentative defensive line into rushed clearances.
Unsurprisingly, Al Wahda reaped their rewards in the 60th minute when they pinched the ball off Glan Martins in the middle of the park. They then strode forward in the inside left channel and laid the ball on a plate for Omar Khibir, who lined up his shot and caressed the ball past Dheeraj Singh.
Once the goal went in, FC Goa looked visibly deflated and even though Clifford Miranda tried to shuffle his pack, the Gaurs never seemed like mounting a comeback.
While there were a couple of forays into the Al Wahda half, they lacked the requisite conviction and the decisiveness to trouble the away side as the latter put the result beyond doubt in the dying embers.
Dheeraj Singh strengthens his burgeoning reputation, yet again
Prior to the winter transfer window, Dheeraj was warming the bench at ATK-Mohun Bagan, with Arindam Bhattacharya being Antonio Habas’ first-choice goalkeeper.
Thus, when FC Goa came calling, it seemed that it was the ideal move for Dheeraj. Not just because the Gaurs were rummaging for a reliable option between the sticks, but also because the opportunity could’ve potentially injected impetus into Dheeraj’s career.
Over the course of the past few months, Dheeraj, courtesy of some extraordinary performances, has made people believe that he is indeed worth the hype he generated during the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup. And, perhaps, in the AFC Champions League, Dheeraj’s displays have reached a crescendo.
Even against Al Wahda, the keeper was magnificent under the crossbar and barely put a foot wrong. He commanded his area excellently and also read the game superbly. In addition, he was seen organising his defensive line, which in James Donachie and Ivan Gonzales’ absence, could’ve disintegrated easily.
Apart from the above, Dheeraj was on hand to effect several marvellous saves. In the 18th minute, the keeper rushed out to thwart Tim Matavz, whereas he also denied Omar Khribin, 11 minutes later. Post the break though, Dheeraj took his game up a notch.
— #ACL2021 (@TheAFCCL) April 30, 2021
Five minutes into the second half, Dheeraj had Khalil Ibrahim bearing down on him in the inside right channel. The Indian, though, didn’t flinch and flung out his palm to deny the forward. A few moments later, he repeated the dose with another exceptional save.
The past few weeks have thrown up plenty of positives for Indian football, whether it be their tenability to continental competitions or their ability to compete against the very best.
Yet, one feels none might’ve been as refreshing as Dheeraj Singh strengthening an already burgeoning reputation. That it comes mere months after he was not deemed good enough to start at an ISL club, only highlights the unparalleled upward trajectory he has charted lately.
FC Goa’s maiden Asian adventure culminates as a damp squib
A couple of weeks ago when FC Goa clashed with Al Rayyan SC, several were intrigued to see how the Gaurs would fare. To that end, they perhaps even exceeded expectations with a couple of draws, before being brought crashing down to reality, courtesy of two defeats against Persepolis FC.
Thus, their final fixture against Al Wahda was always looked upon as an opportunity for the Gaurs to enhance their experience. Not just because it could be a while (at least a year) before they play this competition, but also because they fielded an all-Indian playing eleven.
In sync with those expectations, FC Goa performed admirably as they kept the away side at an arm’s length throughout the first half. However, in the absence of Edu Bedia and Jorge Ortiz, they looked woefully short of ideas in the attacking third.
Moreover, as time went by, the Gaurs looked quite drained, both mentally and physically. The energy and valour that has predominantly been the theme this season, suddenly went amiss against Al Wahda. Though the aforementioned was understandable, owing to the heavily-rotated side, one reckons FC Goa might just have wanted to end their campaign a touch differently.
Throughout the competition, FC Goa (and probably other ISL outfits) have shown that they can stand shoulder-to-shoulder with premier AFC Champions league sides. And, that they can make up for their lack of experience with their unwavering attitude and spirit.
For that trait alone, it seems a shade unfair that the Gaurs’ maiden Asian adventure, which began with fables of fortitude and heroism, culminated as a damp squib.
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