Indian Football is all set to move forward together into a new era, with FC Goa having the ‘special’ distinction of being the first club from the country to play in the AFC Champions League group stage.
FC Goa and Indian national team midfielder Brandon Fernandes feels that bringing the AFC Champions League to India is an achievement for the entire nation.
“It’s a huge achievement for the state and the country. It’s more like a national representation rather than a club or state. The entire nation will be watching us as one and so we ought to give it our all,” said Brandon in a statement issued by the All India Football Federation.
India had earlier been granted a direct spot in the AFC Champions League group stage and having finished at the top of the ISL table in the 2019-20 season, the Gaurs had qualified for the ACL, creating history in the process.
Owing to the ongoing pandemic situation, the group E matches of the competition will be played in Goa this time, as the state will play host to teams like Persepolis (Iran), Al-Rayyan (Qatar), and Al-Wahda (UAE), along with FC Goa.
“It’s a very important step for us. It’s not going to be easy. We are not just representing Goa, we are representing the whole country,” said goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, who had also represented India in the FIFA U-17 World Cup in 2017.
“Everyone is very excited and we are looking forward to this big event. We will make sure we prepare well and give our best and try to use this opportunity in the best way we can.”
Ishan Pandita, who recently made his Blue Tigers debut in the 1-1 draw against Oman in Dubai, UAE, feels that this is an opportunity to make the nation proud.
“It’s obviously a very special feeling. It’s not only Goa that we’re representing but the whole nation. It’s a great opportunity that we have to show Asia and the world that India can play good football. We’re training hard and our preparations are going well. We ready to put in some good performances and hopefully do our 1.3 billion proud,” said Pandita.
Goa’s local lad and national team defender Adil Khan feels that it is a “pride and privilege” for the state to host such prestigious matches in such difficult times.
“It is extremely special that for the first time, India is being represented at the biggest football stage in Asia. It is a historic occasion for India, and massive pride and privilege for Goa to represent the country in the Champions League,” he said.
“We hope all football fans will back us in all our matches as we give our all, not just for Goa, but for India too.”
Midfielder Amarjit Singh Kiyam, who had captained India in the FIFA U-17 World Cup four years back, mentioned that the magnitude of the occasion is understood by everyone in the camp, as all the players and coaches look to prepare for the matches against the best in Asia.
“It’s a very special moment for Indian Football, and for FC Goa. It’s a proud moment for us to be competing in the AFC Champions League. All the players and staff have gotten together, and we are all really motivated and excited for our first match, and everyone’s working really hard to match up to the best teams from Asia,” said Amarjit.