Finally the day that every Indian football fan has been waiting for has arrived. FC Goa take on Al-Rayyan SC from Qatar tonight in the first match of their debut AFC Champions League campaign. The other two teams in Group E of the West Zone are Iran's Persepolis FC and Al Wahda FC from the UAE.
Although beating Al-Rayyan, even at home, will be a difficult task, Juan Ferrando's boys would be hoping to give a good account of themselves as they embark on a new journey for Indian football itself. What's more, they should also be brimming with confidence having remained unbeaten since December 2020, a streak of 15 games. Here is how the Gaurs might line up as they look to start on the front-foot tonight.
FC Goa Predicted Lineup (4-2-3-1):
Although Juan Ferrando has the likes of Mohammed Nawaz and Naveen Kumar in his ranks, he is likely to prefer Dheeraj after his much talked-about move from ATK Mohun Bagan to FC Goa. The youngster did well in the last few games of the Indian Super League (ISL) and kept a couple of clean sheets on their way to the semi-finals. He will be once again entrusted with leading the team from behind and be alert to the danger that the likes of Yacine Brahimi and Yohan Boli might possess.
The Gaurs have a settled back four. They have retained James Donachie in the Asian quota who will most likely be partnered by Spaniard Ivan Gonzalez. Saviour Gama and Seriton Fernandes are expected to complete the back 4.
The midfield will be marshalled by captain Edu Bedia alongside another mid-season recruit from ATK Mohun Bagan, Glan Martins. The Goan scored a brilliant solo goal towards the end of the ISL season and looked to have formed a good partnership with his captain, something which will be crucial. Then there is Brandon Fernandes, fresh from a contract extension. The Indian attacking midfielder has just returned from injury and will be raring to make his mark in a new tournament.
With Igor Angulo left out of the squad because of the 3+1 foreigners rule, the responsibility of finding the back of the net will fall on Jorge Ortiz and the young shoulders of Ishan Pandita. However, Alexander Jesuraj might just turn out to be the trump card for Ferrando with the youngster having been hugely impressive in the ISL across multiple positions.
For FC Goa, Brandon and Ishan will have to be the protagonists going forward. Edu Bedia and Ivan Gonzalez are the other two who the youngsters will be looking up to during the important stages in the match. Our pick though is Spanish winger Jorge Ortiz who, on his day, can provide as well as score at will. In the absence of Angulo and Alberto Noguera, he will have to step up and ensure that he pushes the Al-Rayyan backline deeper with his directness.
You can catch all the action from the match on our LIVE BLOG. Details will be published soon.