AFC Champions League 2021: Optimistic FC Goa face litmus test against leaders Persepolis FC
Emboldened by two highly encouraging results in a span of four days, FC Goa will be up for the challenge when they run into table-toppers and last season's runners-up Persepolis FC
Emboldened by two highly encouraging results in a span of four days, FC Goa will be up for the challenge when they run into table-toppers and last season's runners-up Persepolis FC in the AFC Champions League on Tuesday. The first Indian outfit to play in the continent's top-tier club competition, FC Goa surpassed expectations when they held AL-Rayyan and Al Wahda to goalless draws in their first two outings of the prestigious league.
Iranian champions Persepolis FC will be a different ball game altogether but judging by their spirited performances in the last one week, the Indian club doesn't look like a team that will get intimated by reputation. FC Goa will certainly enter the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium with the belief that they can go for not just another stalemate but also a win, regardless of the opponents' strengths and past records. Head coach Juan Ferrando was full of praise for goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh whose heroics against United Arab Emirates' Al Wahda earned FC Goa a 0-0 stalemate in their last Group E match.
The 20-year-old, who guarded the Indian citadel during the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup, stole the show with a string of fine saves which forced Ferrando into giving his goalkeeper the moniker 'Superman'. One of Goa's most influential players so far in the elite tournament, Dheeraj has made a total of nine saves after two matches played and six of those came against Al Wahda. "I feel like he is the best goalkeeper on matchday two," said Ferrando after his side held Al Wahda.
"Dheeraj's saves were very good. One thing for sure is that he needs to improve on his passing game because we know our style is to build up." Ferrando said Dheeraj, who moved to Goa FC in January this year, is "extremely hardworking" and hard work is one of the few things Goa will need in abundance against a quality opposition like Persepolis FC.
While they have been exceptional in defence, FC Goa's strength lies in the approach adopted by coach Ferrando, including maintaining ball possession and covering ground. Currently second in the group behind Persepolis who have won both their games against Al Wahda (1-0) and Al-Rayyan (3-1), Goa know they will face their ultimate test against the Iranian champions. The 2019 runners-up defeated UAE's Al Wahda 1-0 on Wednesday. Judging by their current form, Yahya Golmohammadi's charges have certainly put behind last season's final defeat against Korea Republic's Ulsan Hyundai FC.
Persepolis have not lost in their last five matches in all competitions, with their only blemish being a 1-1 draw against Shahr Khodro in the Iran Pro League in April. Seyed Jalal Hosseini has been a rock for Persepolis, with the veteran defender scoring a rare goal in the win over Al Wahda and the Iranian giants would definitely like to think that they have their nose ahead against FC Goa. Least surprised by his team's performances in the first two matches, FC Goa coach Ferrando hopes his wards can produce something similar against the group leaders. "It's not surprising because I know my squad wants to improve every day.
It's a pleasure for me to work with this coaching staff, these players. "We have to control our emotions. It's necessary to repeat some details and change the plan for Persepolis. We have to continue in the same way because it's a very difficult competition," Ferrando said. Only the group winners are assured of advancing to the next stage of the league. Match starts at 10.30 PM IST.