Fatorda: When the ACL group slots were announced, no one gave FC Goa even an inkling of a chance. Bets were doing the rounds on how many goals in the dozen would FC Goa concede. Many football ‘pundits’ claimed that India would be shamed on an international level, considering a depleted and changed FC Goa side post Sergio Lobera’s exit.
However, Juan Ferrando and his men had a point to prove in the tournament, as they put their best foot forward right from the first match against Al Rayyan, whom they held to draw, immediately following it up with a draw against Al Wahda next.
From there, the going got tough, with the heavy physical demands of the ACL along with a tight schedule leaving the inexperienced FC Goa players gasping for breath and recovery. But despite all the adversities, the team remained resolute, and delivered a performance that has made all Indian football fans proud. After all, finishing above a quality team from Qatar in the group stages of the premier championship in Asia is no small feat.
The Final Match
Just hours before the final match, FC Goa were dealt with a major blow. Coach Ferrando along with his foreign contingent of players and staff had to immediately leave the country owing to the rising concern of the pandemic and the imminent ban on international travel.
This meant that Indian Coach Clifford Miranda had to take sudden charge and field a completely Indian squad, substitutes et all. Once again, most Indian football fans were skeptical, but this time praying instead that Goa doesn’t concede too many.
The Gaurs knew courtesy of the earlier match of the day that they had definitively finished third regardless of the result of their final match. However, they had to play for pride and look for that elusive victory, even if it meant conceding a few in the process.
The match was a pretty quiet affair in the first ten minutes. Al Wahda had their first chance in the 14th minute, but were denied a goal with a brilliant goal line clearance from the in-form Dheeraj Singh.
In the 21st minute, a free kick arising out of a rare Glan Martins error gave the Gaurs a bit of a scare again. However, the direct shot taken by Al Wahda went way wide of the keeper. Just two minutes later, there were shouts of a penalty from Al Wahda, but the referee waved play on.
Al Wahda continued to press, with an aim to finish on a winning note. Omar Khrbin had a wonderful chance in the 28th minute, but was again thwarted by Dheeraj on goal. Three minutes later, Matavz in another chance that went begging, let out a powerful shot which went just inches over the crossbar. Al Wahda’s tough luck continued the next few minutes with a couple of chances going waste.
Goa could have capitalized on this spell with a 37th minute yellow to Abdulla Hamad with a shot that the keeper spilled. Glan rushed on to take a shot but the keeper Alshamsi who had recovered by then, managed to parry the ball away to safety. Hardly four minutes later, Goa had another chance, which they missed, resulting in a counter attack. However, Adil was quick on the ball and managed to defend the ball safely. Three more minutes later, Sanson had a great chance again, but did not manage to pass the ball in time for Pandita to score an open shot on goal.
In the 3 minutes added on for the first half, Goa had a major scare with a break into the box, but Adil was again up for the challenge, managing to safely defend it. Just a few moments later, Al Wahda had another chance, but the shot was cleared by Seriton Fernandes for a corner.
Despite a lot of action in the first half, the scoreline remained at 0-0.
The Second Half
The next 45 minutes was a mighty challenge for the Gaurs, as Al Wahda continued to attack with full force. In the 49th minute, Dheeraj managed to save a sure shot goal blasted in by Khalil Ibrahim. Three minutes later, he made another one-handed save, thus saving Goa from what would have easily been 4 or 5 goals from Al Wahda.
In the 54th minute, a minor confusion in the box resulted in Dheeraj and Samson colliding. Dheeraj received some treatment on the field for a couple of minutes, and managed to limp back up into action. However, it was evident that he was in some sort of pain.
In the 60th minute, Al Wahda finally managed to break the resolute FC Goa defence with Tim Matavz serving a delicious ball into the box for Omar Khrbin to shoot into the goal past a helpless Dheeraj.
Just minutes later, Dheeraj had to be subbed off, owing to the persistence of his earlier injury, and Naveen Kumar was brought in to replace him. However, Naveen’s bad run of form continued as he spilled one, which was taken on by a FC Goa player who sent a backpass, which was however not adjudged so by the referee, despite frantic appeals from the Al Wahda players.
In the 82nd minute, Ishan Pandita had a chance with almost a one-on-one situation with the Al Wahda goalie, but could not manage to keep the ball at his feet. Almost as a punishment, in the 89th minute, Al Wahda managed to double their lead thanks to a total defensive mess-up between Adil Khan and Naveen Kumar.
Omar Khrbin was adjudged the Player of the Match, which ended 0-2, thus ending FC Goa’s glorious campaign in their first ever AFC Champions League campaign.
Persepolis ended up as table toppers of Group E, with 5 wins and a loss out of their 6 games, and a supreme goal difference of 9, scoring 14 and conceding only 5. Al Wahda who started out bad, surprisingly ended up in the second spot of Group E, with 13 points and a 4 goal difference stemming from 4 wins, a draw and a loss.
FC Goa were the surprise package, ending up on third, with three draws and three losses, scoring two and conceding nine, thus obtaining a negative goal difference of 7. World Cup winner Laurent Blanc coached side Al Rayyan at the start looked poised to end up as runners-up of the group, however had a bad spell of results and with luck not often favouring them, ended up at the bottom of Group E.
Overall, for the West Zone, the results are as follows:
A1: FC ISTIKLOL (TJK)
B1: SHARJAH (UAE)
C1: ESTEGHLAL FC (IRN)
D1: AL NASSR (KSA)
E1: PERSEPOLIS FC (IRN)
3 Qualifying Best 2nd places
E2: AL WAHDA FSCC (UAE) – 13pts
B2: TRACTOR FC (IRN) – 10pts (goal difference +3)
A2: AL HILAL SFC (KSA) – 10pts (goal difference +2 and 11 goals scored in the group)