April 13, 2021 10:15:33 pm
All throughout this week, there has been talk of how FC Goa will fare at the biggest stage the club has played at. The city will be hosting Group E of the AFC Champions League, of which Indian Super League club FC Goa is part of. They are the first-ever Indian team — Indian Super League champions now get direct entry — to take part in the group stage of the best continental competition on offer in Asia. And rather than the excitement that follows when a stage of this magnitude presents itself, it is a rule that limits foreign players in a team, that has really amped up the pressure Goa is about to experience.
The Asian Football Confederation follows a rule that states that teams can only play with four foreign players on the pitch at any given time and can have a total of five in their squad.
This is different to Indian Super League rules, which works on teams being able to procure the services of up to seven foreign players, five of whom can be on the pitch. This rule was applicable in the ISL up until this season, and India’s top league is set to follow the AFC’s ruling from next season onwards.
It is obvious that this rule is meant to force teams to focus on the development of Indian players. But then FC Goa will set out tomorrow at the Fatorda Stadium to face Al Rayyan, a Qatari Super League team, currently coached by Laurent Blanc, the former France manager, and filled to the brim with stars most likely headed to the World Cup.
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All the teams in FC Goa’s group have one crucial factor in common, years and years of experience fielding teams that are made up of players from their respective countries, in the Asian Champions League. FC Goa’s Champions League prospects are not the brightest.
If there is anyone in Goa’s team who has experienced a severe disadvantage when playing football, it is captain Edu Bedia. With stints in the La Liga and runs at the Europa League, Bedia knows a thing or two about being the underdog.
“Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, I have had the chance to play in a lot of games where I’ve been on the inferior team. That experience counts especially considering how difficult games can be where you have to run the yards without having much of the ball. We have been trying to explain this to the Indian players as well – all of whom have grown up playing at a level with teams who are similar to them in quality. They are used to dominating games but this is going to be different. There are going to be difficult moments on the pitch,” said Bedia during the pre-match press conference.
Indian football, at present, is simply unable to give an adequate number of games to players at most age levels. Assuming FC Goa are knocked out of the group stages, they would have played a total of 28 professional games between the ISL and the group stage of the ACL. But these six games provide Goa’s Indian players with some much-needed game-time and most of it comes against high-quality Asian opponents.
Coach Juan Ferrando, who helmed this young Goan side to a creditable finish in the ISL grudgingly spoke about the rule that made him choose four foreign players, none of which was Igor Angulo – this season’s top scorer in the ISL.
“This is the rule and we accept it. In FC Goa, the first rule is to improve the players. In the end for us it’s a good job. In different places you have academies and players work over there (at a younger age). But here, a lot of the time it is necessary to work so much on the players because the football is more informal and it’s necessary to help players a lot more,” said Ferrando at the pre-match press conference.
Al Rayyan’s troubles
Six games in the space of 20 days is a tough ask in itself. But then the month of Ramadan, the humidity of Goa and the lack of any training in the host city has left Al Rayyan coach Laurent Blanc struggling as his teams’ Asian Champions League journey begins.
Al Rayyan players and staff all provided their samples for a Covid test immediately after touching down in Goa, the results of which were not provided on the same day. This led to the team having to practice in their hotel and not on the field, according to the team website.
“The Asian Championship is very difficult, especially in these circumstances – playing in the month of Ramadan, and playing every three days. I know other teams have the same conditions, but our beginning (opening match) will be with the team hosting the tournament and they are a tough and sophisticated team,” Blanc said, according to the Al Rayyan team website.
AFC Champions League Group Stage
Group E Goa matches
FC Goa vs Al Rayyan: 10:30 PM, April 14
Al Wahda vs FC Goa: 8:00 PM, April 17
Persepolis vs FC Goa: 10:30 PM, April 20
FC Goa vs Perspepolis: 10:30 PM, April 23
Al Rayyan vs FC Goa: 10:30 PM, April 26
FC Goa vs Al Wahda: 10:30 PM, April 29
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