FC Goa will become the first Indian side to participate in the group stages of the AFC Champions League this year. It was initially feared that their Indian Super League (ISL) campaign would be interrupted by the same, what with the continental tournament initially scheduled to kick off in the middle of February. However, the competition has now been postponed to April and member nations have already been intimated.
The ISL is going to end sometime around mid-March with its remaining fixtures to be announced in the next few days. Had the Champions League begun on 15 February as initially planned, the Gaurs would have had to play in multiple competitions, that too during the business end of the ISL. Since the ISL fixture list is already quite congested, this could have meant additional strain on the players both physically and mentally.
Moreover, the ISL this season is being held under a bio-secure bubble in Goa. Contrastingly, for their group stage games in the Champions League, FC Goa may have to play in a home and away basis. So the major issue regarding FC Goa’s participation in the group stages was with respect to their movement in and out of the bubble to play their away games and subsequent complications regarding COVID protocol adherence.
With the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) now confirming that the event has been pushed back to April, it gives the ISL some leeway to schedule matches without having to take into consideration the club’s other commitments. Incidentally, the AFC Cup, which involves both ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC, is also going to be played in a centralized location sometime in April. While ATK Mohun Bagan have qualified directly for the group stages, Bengaluru will have to play the playoff round to qualify for the main event.