Just a day remains now, as the Asian Champions League kicks off. We will see FC Goa facing some of the best in Asia to compete for the Champions League trophy. The Gaurs are the first team to participate in the current format of the Asian Champions League. Obviously the biggest tournament in Asia, it had many formats if we look into it’s history. There have also been many Indian football clubs participating. Out of which Mysore state has the best record till date of finishing fourth in the inaugural season in 1969. Some other clubs to play in this prestigious tournament are, East Bengal, Mohun Bagan, Dempo FC, Salgaocar FC, Churchill Brothers, Bengaluru FC and Chennai City FC.
To all the fans out there, this is the Asian format of the UEFA Champions League (UCL) which we all are so eager to watch at late nights. While, UCL is the European format and ACL is the Asian format. FC Goa begin their road to Asian Champions on 14th April 2021, facing Al Rayyan.
KNOW THE OPPONENTS
AL RAYYAN (QATAR)
The team from Qatar plays in the Qatar Stars League. Formed in 1967, they have eight league titles to their name with the recent one in 2015-16. They qualified for the ACL 2021 by securing second spot in the Qatar Stars League. The team finished third this season in the league, qualifying for qualifier stage for next season’s ACL. They have made it nine times to the ACL but never got past the group stage.
The team is coached by Laurent Blanc, the 1998 World Cup winning center back with France. He has also won three consecutive league titles with PSG from 2013-2016. He was appointed the head coach of Al Rayyan in December 2020. Players to watch out for in this team are – Yacine Brahimi and Yohan Boli.
AL WAHDA FC (UAE)
They were the last club to qualify in the group E of ACL 2021, where FC Goa, Al Rayyan and Persepolis FC are placed. Hailing from UAE, they play it’s first division tournament, UAE Pro League. They finished the 2019-20 season at fifth place in their league and are currently eight in the league. Al Wahda FC have played 12 times before in this tournament, with the best finish being in 2007, reaching the semi finals. They have also won the UAE Pro League four times, with recent victory in 2009-10 season.
Their coach, Henk ten Cate is a Dutch ex-player. He has won the Champions League with Barcelona as an assistant manager in 2005-06 and also the La Liga title. Later, he served as the manager of Ajax for 2006-07 season, during which he won three trophies. After his stint with Ajax, he became the assistant manager of Chelsea but stepped down in 2008 after defeat in the 2008 UEFA Champions League to rivals, Manchester United. The players to watch out for are – Omar Khribin, Ismaeil Matar and Tim Matavz.
PERSEPOLIS FC (IRAN)
Based in Iran, the club was formed in 1963. The club plays in the Persian Gulf Pro League, having won it a record 13 times and have been winning the league title since 2016-17. They have also been two times runner up in the AFC Champions League and are clear favorites to go through the group stage.
Their manager, Yahya Golmohammadi is a former Iranian player. He is one of the players to have scored in the FIFA World Cup in 2006 against Mexico. He has played most of his time in Persepolis and is the manager since 2020. Having won the league title in 2019-20 and being the runners up in 2020 ACL, he will look to bring the Champions League home. Players to watch out for – Vahid Amiri.
HOW IS FC GOA EXPECTED TO PERFORM AT GROUP STAGES?
FC Goa have a very flexible, strong team with big names in every part of the field. Al Rayyan and Al Wahda look comparatively an easy obstacle to par than Persepolis FC. Only one team, who tops the group is expected to go through the group stages into further games.
With Donachie, Gonzales and Adil Khan, they look strong at the back. They have their captain Edu Bedia, Brandon Fernandes, Princeton Rebello, Glan Martins, Tlang and Jesuraj in the middle of the park. Having faith in the attack of Ortiz and Ishan Pandita, they both provide quality firepower upfront.
Ahead of FC Goa’s AFC Champions League clash against Qatar club Al Rayyan on Wednesday, club’s head coach, Juan Ferrando, said he had to take some very “tough selection decisions” to put the best players on the field.
“It has been a difficult process and needed me to make some very tough decisions. At FC Goa, we have good footballers. All of them have been doing their best for the team. Regarding the selection of foreign players from the ones I had to select from, I have praise for Ivan (Gonzalez), Igor (Angulo), Edu (Bedia), Jorge (Ortiz), and Alberto (Noguera),” Ferrando said.