FC Goa skipper Edu Bedia and midfielder Brandon Fernades stressed the need to be smart, while head coach Juan Ferrando spoke about wanting to stay true to the club’s philosophy as they embark upon their maiden AFC Champions League campaign.
The Indian Super League (ISL) side, which finished fourth in the recently concluded campaign, will come up against clubs with Champions League pedigree. Goa's Group E, which begins on April 14 in Goa, is made up of last season’s finalist Persepolis FC (Iran), Qatar’s Al Rayyan and the playoff winner of Al-Wahda (UAE) and Al-Zawraa (Iraq). All four nations’ club competitions are among the top 10 in the AFC rankings, while India is placed 15.
Goa finished the ISL league stage with the highest average possession (58 per cent) and second-most number of passes (9665) but Bedia acknowledged his side won’t enjoy a familiar superiority in the continent’s biggest stage.
“Keeping in mind their level, we will have to work hard and train with intensity in preparation for this,” said Bedia, who has La Liga experience under his belt. “We are working very hard to be as competitive as possible in these games. It's important to remember that we are not used to this experience. We are a team that likes to keep a lot of the ball but we might not see a lot of the ball. It might become a possession-based game then we need to be smart about it. Obviously, whenever we get chances, there will be few and far between, we need to take them,” he added.
While Goa last played on March 8, its opponents are in the middle of their domestic competitions. Bedia welcomed the week-long break at the end of a five-month-long ISL season in a bio-secure bubble, while Ferrando expressed concerns over getting the intensity level back up.
“The teams [opposition] are working week by week in intensity. It’s game, training, game for them. For us, the last month has been training, training, training,” said Ferrando, who recovered from COVID-19 last week.
A keen tactician, Ferrando emphasised the need to retain focus through the six matches in the space of 20 days.
“In FC Goa, our philosophy is the same but it's necessary to change some points in both defence and attack. Depending on the opponent, you need to change some points but the plan more or less is the same. It’s not necessary to talk about tactics but necessary to talk about focus. In 90 minutes, it's important not to relax. In just a second, maybe one player is good at dribbling or one throw-in could create space and allow them to play in a good cross. These are the most important details,” he pointed out.
Brandon, who last featured for Goa on January 17, is fit and has returned to full training. The attacking midfielder is keen to test his level against the best.
“I have played against good teams in the age groups for the national team. But this is a different competition and we will be coming up against really good teams,” he said. “We might not be able to play how we play in the ISL, but when we get the chance we have to prove ourselves. We have to take this [experience] as a positive and when we look back at our careers, we can say we have played at the highest level in Asia,” he added.
He continued, “We won’t be surprised by how they play. We have to be smarter and focus on our strengths. We just have to go there and do our best.”
Ferrando said he will make the call on his four overseas players for the Champions League squad on Wednesday, which would mean two foreigners from the roster will sit out the competition.
“Of course, it is a difficult decision, and I am thinking about it every day,” he said. “I will decide tomorrow night. The big problem is we play six games in 20 days and it’s a difficult decision. It’s a difficult moment in my career. They love the club, work hard and help the team. They play hard in training and it's a very, very difficult decision. But it's the life of football,” he added.
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