April 13, 2021 11:09:00 am
FC Goa are set to become the first Indian football club to play in an Asian Champions League group stage as they take on Al Rayyan on April 14, at the Fatorda Stadium in a Group E match.
Goa, currently on a 15-game unbeaten run, will face a massive level up in competition. The Asian Champions League features some of the best clubs in the continent and a three foreign player limit effectively means that the onus is on the local talent pool.
How did India get a spot in Asia’s premier cup competition?
On October 14, 2019 the Asian Football Confederation (AFC), in a meeting with the All-India Federation of Football (AIFF) anointed the Indian Super League as the top football league of the country. While doing this, the ISL league champions would also be awarded with an AFC Champions League group spot.
Up until now, a spot in the group stage hadn’t been a guarantee for Indian clubs, who had to go through a playoff stage to be given a chance to compete against the best Asia has to offer. In the 2019-2020 season, FC Goa won the ISL league stage – securing a five-point gap over their closest competitors ATK and thus becoming the first Indian team to ever qualify for the AFC Champions League group stage.
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What is the quality of football like and what can FC Goa expect?
The Asian Champions League houses some of the best teams in the continent. These are teams that transition from defence to attack in the blink of an eye. Taking time on the ball is a cardinal sin at this stage – a sin that is committed with aplomb in the ISL and one that will be heavily punished at the Asian arena.
FC Goa are hosting Group E – a home advantage of sorts, despite what has been a never-ending bio-bubble. But the games will come thick and fast, with six group matches taking place in the space of 20 days. There will be no time for any team to really pick up the pieces of a bad result or truly recover after a gruelling 90 minutes.
Who are Goa’s group stage opponents?
Goa’s group doesn’t really help either. The three teams in their group all hail from countries that are either regulars or are about to participate in the World Cup. Al Rayyan (Qatar), Persepolis (Iran) and Al Wahda (UAE) are all tough matchups for Goa. Al Rayyan is currently coached by Laurent Blanc and are rife with World Cup level players who came as close as the AFC Champions League final in their previous outing at the continental competition.
Will a spot in the Asian CL help Indian clubs in the long run?
The Asian Champions League gives Indian football two much-needed boosts for better football in the long run. Firstly, it gives a group of Indian players, however small, the opportunity to play more games. The best leagues in the world are able to offer their players at least 45-60 games a season – games that are crucial in developing players in different scenarios, be it the marathon of a league or the smash-and-grab of a cup competition.
In India, this concept remains alien. The top league of the country can at best provide 23 games to 2 teams and at worst provide 20 games to the rest. Then there are the other domestic cup competitions that fail to make much of a dent in an Indian players’ development on the global stage – simply because they don’t get to play enough. In this scenario, six games at the Champions League provides some much-needed time on the pitch.
Secondly, at minimum, six group games are guaranteed to be some of the best quality opposition that Indian players are likely to face. Facing a tougher quality of opposition might not result in favourable statistics, but will make better players out of a local talent pool that misses out on quality. FC Goa’s coach Juan Ferrando spoke to the IANS on how things change on the Asian stage and how Indian players need to react to these changes.
“For us, it’s a great opportunity to learn, get some experience, and for our local players to know about international competition. It’s different – you need to focus for 90 minutes, work like a team. In the Hero ISL, you have two-three players who have good crosses, good dribbling, they can help the team; in international competitions, you need to be a team, that’s very important,” Ferrando said.
Any new rules that FC Goa would have to follow?
One of the major changes FC Goa and Indian clubs would go through is the 3+1 foreign player rule (1 Asian player). Until this season, Indian Super League teams could purchase seven foreign players and play with five on the pitch. But next season onwards, ISL teams are set to follow AFC rules and stick to five foreign purchases, four of whom can be on the pitch.
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