FC Goa look to end Asian campaign on a high
- UAE’s Al-Wahda had stunned Iranian giants Persepolis 1-0 in the day’s previous game, making it impossible for both FC Goa and Al-Rayyan to finish in the top two spots.
When FC Goa took to the field against Al-Rayyan in the penultimate group stage game of their AFC Champions League campaign on Monday, they did so with the knowledge that they had no mathematical chance of making it to the knockout stages of the tournament. UAE’s Al-Wahda had stunned Iranian giants Persepolis 1-0 in the day’s previous game, making it impossible for both FC Goa and Al-Rayyan to finish in the top two spots.
Only the group winners are assured of a place in the Round of 16 – with six of the 10 second-placed teams also going through. Monday’s result also means Al-Wahda have an outside chance of topping the group, although that would require Qatar’s Al-Rayyan to pull off a result against Persepolis.
But irrespective of what happens in the other game, Al-Wahda can seal their spot in the next round if they beat FC Goa in their last group game on Thursday as it would guarantee them a spot at least among the best second-place finishers.
On the other hand, the motivation for Goa is simple: to try and become the first Indian team to win a game in the main phases of the competition. Juan Ferrando’s side failed to secure a place in Asia for next season through the Indian Super League after being knocked out in the play-off semis and they will look to make the most of their one remaining game this season.
Having squandered a lead in the 89th minute against Al-Rayyan on Monday, Goa will look to finally go one step further and grab three points this time. It would also help Goa’s confidence that the last time they faced Al-Wahda, they created a few scoring opportunities in the second half, including one where midfielder Brandon Fernandes hit the post. Since then, they have scored two goals in this competition – midfielder Edu Bedia in the 1-2 loss to Persepolis and forward Jorge Ortiz in the 1-1 draw against Al-Rayyan.
“We need to think about three points. We know, against Al-Wahda, it’s difficult. It’s a great opportunity for them to make sure they participate in the next round. For us, we are thinking of the third position (in the group). The important thing is not to think that this is the last game and we can relax; no, this is the Champions League and we need to be strong. We need to find the best XI tomorrow and the best tactical plan,” Ferrando said in his pre-match press conference on Wednesday.
Goa will be boosted by the fact that Al-Wahda have three of their players suspended for Thursday’s game – forwards Ismaeil Matar and Abdulla Anwar and defender Abdulla Al-Karbi.
Al-Wahda boss Henk ten Cate said mental and physical exhaustion won’t affect his players in the final game, given the prize at stake. "It's the last game and even though the players are tired, I’m really looking forward to this match. We’ve been playing in this competition with this bubble for three weeks. It’s not easy but we are managing thanks to the people here in India," he said.
"It will not be an easy game. They (Goa) will try to get their first win in the tournament and it is our last game, which means we need to guarantee our qualification to the next stage by getting the three points," added Ten Cate.