FC Goa’s young goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh says his performance during the AFC Champions League (ACL) Group Stage matches recently would have silenced his critics, who had not given him much chance against top Asian outfits. Thanks to his performance under the bar, FC Goa held top-rated Qatari outfit Al Rayyan and UAE’s Al Wahda to goalless draws in the first two Group E matches of the ACL, before losing to Iran’s Persepolis 1-2. The only game in the six outings where FC Goa lost by more than a two-goal margin was in the return match against Persepolis FC where they lost 0-4. In all other games, FC Goa held their heads high, defending their goal stoutly.
The Goan outfit finished third in the four-team Group E with three draws and three losses and could not make it to the Round-of-16.
“Before the competition, friends often said, ‘how many goals are you going to concede?’ This was the expectation from us. But we came out as a very strong team and it was not easy for any opponent to come and score against us because everyone has given their 100 per cent,” said the 20-year-old Manipuri custodian, whose saves became the talking point of the tournament.
“The way we survived in the first and second games (goalless draws against Al Rayyan and Al Wahda), I think we surprised everyone,” said Dheeraj, who made 26 saves in five games. He did not start in one game because of injury.
“Overall, I think we did a great job in the AFC Champions League. It was the very first time that an Indian club participated in (the group stage of) the AFC Champions League. I hope this is the first of many times that Indian teams can participate in the AFC Champions League. The standard is very high and every match is a learning curve,” said Dheeraj, who joined FC Goa from ATK Mohun Bagan in January.
The goalkeeper said that playing every 2-3 days was difficult for every player “as we got a very short time to recover, both physically and mentally”.
“So, it (getting fit) was a big challenge for us to play after two or three days. I think it was one of the biggest challenges that every player had.”