FC Goa have managed to remain unbeaten after their first two matches in the AFC Champions League after successive 0-0 draws against Al-Rayyan and Al Wahda but face the sternest test when they take on last season’s runners-up Persepolis FC in the third group game at the Fatorda stadium in Margao, Goa on Tuesday.

The Iranians are top of the group after wins in their first two matches against the same opponents while Goa are second with two draws.

Persepolis though are giving the hosts due respect as coach Yahya Golmohammadi has warned his side against any sort of complacency ahead of the game.

“I saw both their matches, and they have been really working, and been running a lot. It’s (FC Goa’s position on the table) not only surprising for us, but also for everyone else in the ACL,” said Golmohammadi on the eve of the match.

The Indian club is not only technically sound but the players are mentally tough as well, according to Golmohammadi.

“From the mental aspect, they are on a real high, and they have been doing well on the technical aspect as well. It is not by accident that they stopped two good teams. They did it on merit.”

“It will not be easy against them tomorrow. We need to concentrate hard because our rivals are very good at counter-attacking,” added Golmohammadi.

‘Dream come true’

Ahead of their match against Persepolis, FC Goa head coach Juan Ferrando said that it was akin to a “dream” for his side.

“This (playing at this level) is like a dream come true for us. We are just taking it game by game. For us, it’s all about the Persepolis game right now. We are taking it game by game, and we are focused.”

Merely a second-place finish in the group stage does not guarantee Goa a qualification into the knockout stage.

Only three best second-placed teams from the West Asian Groups Groups A, B, C, D and E will progress to the knockout stage.

However, Ferrando is not thinking that far ahead about qualification just yet.

“From my point of view, the most important game is the next one, and we play Persepolis next. I love this competition, but we need to take it step by step.

“We will try to get more points, but it’s about the mentality. The players need this experience (of playing at this level),” said Ferrando.

“It will not be easy, because Persepolis have a lot of experience already in the ACL. It is necessary in this case, that we work three times more than them. In the end, we need to maintain focus every second, tomorrow, or we may have big problems,” he said.

Learning process

FC Goa’s goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, who has impressed one and all with his performances, keeping two clean sheets in as many ACL appearances so far, believes that the playing time he has got at FC Goa has helped boost his confidence.

“The World Cup (Fifa U-17) was a big thing for me, and that certainly helped build confidence. But for a young goalkeeper like me, it’s important to keep playing games. Luckily, I have been able to do that since I came to FC Goa,” said Dheeraj.

While he has faced difficult times in the recent seasons, Dheeraj feels that they have helped transform him into a better player.

“You don’t get everything as a player, and you need to use the difficult moments as a learning process as a player and as a human being, said Dheeraj.

“Since I’ve moved to Goa, I have worked hard, and the coach loves that I do that and play my natural game. That has helped me regain my confidence.”

Persepolis are 13-time champions of the Persian Gulf Pro League. Even though they have never tasted success in the Champions League, they have come close having finished runners-up on two out of the three occasions. The Iranians thus would be keen to go that one step better this time out making FC Goa’s task a lot harder.

FC Goa produced a much-improved display in the second game against Al Wahda but Ferrando’s men will have to raise their game to an altogether different level if they are to stop Persepolis and continue their unbeaten streak in the Champions League so far.

With PTI inputs