FC Goa begin their first-ever AFC Champions League journey on Wednesday night against Al Rayyan SC, with an entire nation watching intently. The Gaurs are all set to become the first team from India to participate in the group stages of the continental competition and are keen to make a positive impact in the tournament.
Juan Ferrando’s men have been drawn in Group E alongside Al Rayyan, Al-Wahda and Persepolis, and start their campaign with a game against Al Rayyan.
The Gaurs come into this competition on the back of an entertaining season in the Indian Super League, making the playoffs once again, but falling short at the second last hurdle – bowing out on penalties.
Regardless, the break from life in the bubble should hold the Men in Orange in good stead heading into the AFC Champions League, with rest and recuperation the name of the game for many players.
FC Goa’s squad sees two key foreign players missing in ISL top Golden Boot winner Igor Angulo and talented midfielder Alberto Noguera due to the AFC allowing only four foreign players to be allowed for the tournament (with one being from a member nation of the AFC), but the rest of the side is chomping at the bit for an opportunity to shine on the big stage.
The Gaurs will happily welcome the return of Brandon Fernandes to the team following a spell out with injury, while Jorge Ortiz could hold the key that unlocks opposition defences after a strong outing for the Spaniard in the past ISL campaign.
FC Goa’s opponents in the first match of Group E are Qatari side Al Rayyan SC. The team finished third in the Qatar Stars League in the 2020-21 season and is considered one of the biggest clubs in the country.
For those familiar with European football, Al Rayyan are coached by former Manchester United defender and former PSG manager Laurent Blanc, a 1998 FIFA World Cup winner himself, and are eight-time champions of Qatar.
Al Rayyan qualified for the AFC Champions League by finishing runners-up in the 2019-20 Qatari league season, and are hopeful of a big performance in this season’s tournament.
In terms of recent form, it doesn’t make for good reading if you are an Al Rayyan fan. The side is winless in their last four games and were also recently beaten by Qatari Champions Al Sadd, who are coached by FC Barcelona legend Xavi Hernandez.
Al Rayyan will also be without the services of key central defender Gabriel Mercado throughout the group stages due to injury, as was confirmed by the club prior to the start of the tournament.
Regardless, this is a very strong team, and have plenty of players looking to do the damage, but perhaps none more so than Yohan Boli. The Ivorian is their top scorer this season with 11 goals to his name and finished the campaign behind only four other players in the Qatari top division, including former Arsenal star Santi Cazorla.
This promises to be an exciting opener in Group E of the AFC Champions League, with both sides keen to make an impression and lay down the gauntlet for other sides in the group.
Group E is also one of the most competitive groups in the entire tournament, which will excite fans who are watching the competition for the very first time.
FC Goa will be out to prove a point in the competition with the eyes of the entire nation upon them. Home advantage, however, will not mean much for the Gaurs beyond their familiarity with the weather as the games are being played behind closed doors due to the ongoing threat of COVID-19. Al Rayyan, on the other hand, will be keen to spoil the party for the ISL giants and give them a rude welcome to the continental stage.