Indian Super League team FC Goa was on Wednesday clubbed with the last edition’s runners-up Persepolis FC of Iran, Qatari heavyweights Al Rayyan SC and one yet-to-qualify side in Group E in the prestigious AFC Champions League.
The group stage draw of the continent’s top-tier league involving 40 teams was held online. This season’s AFC Champions League is the biggest ever in history as it was a 32-team affair last time around.
FC Goa had become the first Indian club to directly qualify for the group stage of the ACL by virtue of finishing on top of the points table at the end of the league phase.
Here’s a closer look at their opponents in the AFC Champions League group stage:
Persepolis FC (Iran)
Iranian giants Persepolis have won the domestic league 13 times and are the country’s most successful club. They finished runners-up in the ACL last season two years after suffering a similar fate in 2018. They have entered the group stage of ACL as 2019–’20 Persian Gulf Pro League champions.
This will be the Iranian side’s fifth straight appearance in the competition and their sixteenth overall. Persepolis have won the Cup Winners’ Cup, now called the AFC Cup, once in 1990-’91.
The club is coached by former Iranian footballer Yahya Golmohammadi. He is one of the eight Iranian footballers to have scored a World Cup goal for the country when he scored the team’s only goal in a 3-1 defeat to Mexico. Having joined ahead of last season, Golmohammadi had a successful first season as he helped Persepolis win the Persian Gulf Pro League title apart from guide them to the AFC Champions League final.
The team is led by Jalal Hosseini who has 115 appearances for the national team.
Al Rayyan (Qatar)
Al Rayyan are eight-time Qatar Stars League winners, making them the joint second-most successful club in the country. They have never won the AFC Champions League but will make their tenth appearance in the competition. Having missed out on the 2020 edition, Al Rayyan would be keen to make amends this season.
Al Rayyan are coached by former France and Paris-Saint German coach Laurent Blanc. The team are not having the best of seasons in the Qatar Stars League as they sit fourth in the league, 16 points behind leaders Al-Sadd.
Ivory Coast striker Yohan Boli is the team’s top scorer this season and has been among the form players in the Qatar League.
The fourth side in Group E will the winner of the play-offs match between UAE’s Al-Wahda FC and Iraq’s Al-Zawraa SC.
The winner side of each of the 10 groups and three best runners-up from each region – west and east – advance to the round of 16 of the knockout stage. Groups A to E make up the west region while Groups F to J comprises of the east region.
The league kicks off with the preliminary stage on April 7. The group stage matches will be held from April 14 to 30 for West Zone (Groups A to E) and from April 21 to May 7 for East Zone (Group F to J) and will be played in centralised venues.
The knockout matches in the Round of 16 are scheduled for September 13-15 and the quarter-finals on September 27-29. Both rounds will be played as single matches. The semi-finals will be over two legs on October 19-20 and 26-27.
The two-leg final will be held on November 21 and 27.
The detailed fixture and the centralised venues will be announced later.
Bidding invitations and other hosting details will be circulated to participating member associations, the AFC said.
(With PTI inputs)
Here’s how FC Goa coach Juan Ferrando and technical director Ravi Puskur reacted to the draw