Champions League nights finally arrived for Indian football fans when FC Goa took on Qatari giants Al Rayyan SC at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda. The AFC Champions League debutants came into the match as underdogs against Al Rayyan, who made their 6th ACL appearance on Wednesday over the last 15 years. Given this context, a point was a good result for Juan Ferrando’s side, but the Gaurs will have to exhibit more attacking prowess when they face stronger opponents, as in Persepolis and Al Wahda, to progress further.
FC Goa almost found the opener in the 40th minute of the match when Romario tried an ambitious long ranger to test Al Rayyan goalkeeper Fahad Younis. That, however, turned out to be their only shot on target as the Gaurs found it difficult to infiltrate the water-tight Al Rayyan defense.
Al Rayyan were highly wasteful in their attack, fumbling multiple chances to gain a lead against the Gaurs. Dheeraj Singh’s terrific effort saved the home side from an early embarrassment when Al Hadrami fired in from close range. Goa looked shaky in the initial phases of the game, losing possession easily to Al Rayyan’s high press. However, they soon regained their composure back, much due to Edu Bedia and Glan Martins’s brilliance, and succeeded to keep The Lion’s silent for most of the game.
Naif Al-Hadhrami saw a 44th minute shot saved exceptionally by Dheeraj Singh while Qatari midfielder Abdulaziz Hatem’s shot from the rebound went above the crossbar. Rayyan were better at progressing the ball, but Goa held their shape and denied them any easy openings.
As the second half began, the Gaurs began playing with much more intensity and sharpness than they did in the first half. Glan Martins attempted an ambitious shot from the center-line which was too high to cause any trouble to Fahad Younis. The 75th minute of the game saw Alexander Jesuraj’s cross hit the hand of Al Rayyan right-back Alaaeldin inside the penalty box but the referee ignored FC Goa’s claims of a penalty. Dheeraj Singh was yet again forced into a brilliant save by Yohan Boli in the final few minutes of the game which capped of a good performance from the young goalkeeper.
Laurent Blanc blamed the weather conditions of Goa for the lackluster performance of his team stating, “Weather and humidity had the greatest impact on our team’s level during the Goa match”. He further lamented his team’s missed chances and the lack of sharpness in the final third saying, “We were not able to exploit the opportunities and as a result lost two points today. We have to win against Persepolis in the next round.”
Juan Ferrando was a happy man post-game, saying, “I am happy with the way we started the game. The plan was to control the space. In the second half, it was important to work and control the game because Al Rayyan press well, they press at the right time with correct positioning. But I think it’s a good experience for our players and as a coach, I can work with this in our training with similar press and that helps our players match the intensity in these games.”
There were plenty of positives for FC Goa to take away from the match with James Donachie and Iván González delivering a fine performance in the back assisted by Seriton Fernandes and Sanson Pereira. Edu Bedia and Glan Martins commanded things well in the midfield, but what will worry Juan Ferrando will be his frontline. It will be up to Ishan Pandita and co. to improve their game and make most of the opportunities created by the Gaurs for them to have any chances against their next opponent.
Al Rayyan SC meets Persepolis next while FC Goa will be facing a stern challenge when they meet Al Wahda on 17th April.