FC Goa conceded an 89th-minute equaliser to finish with a 1-1 draw against Al Rayyan in the AFC Champions League at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Fatorda, Goa.
By virtue of Al Wahda’s 1-0 victory over Persepolis FC just moments earlier, Goa knew that they had lost the chance to qualify for the Round of 16 of the Champions League, but they still had pride to play for.
A more familiar looking FC Goa side took to the pitch for this game, with key players such as captain Edu Bedia, Jorge Ortiz, Brandon Fernandes and Dheeraj Singh among those making their return to the starting eleven.
That familiarity bred quality once the opening whistle blew, as Goa flew out of the blocks and took the lead just three minutes in. A long ball over the top from Brandon Fernandes wasn’t dealt with by the Al Rayyan back line, and Jorge Ortiz pounced. The Spaniard’s first attempt was thwarted by the onrushing keeper, Saud Al Hajiri, but the forward’s persistence paid off as he got first to the deflected ball before sliding the ball into the back of the net.
Defending was something Goa has done well for most parts in the tournament up until this point, and Dheeraj was up for the challenge for some more in the ninth minute. The in-form keeper made a point-blank save from Yohan Boli to keep his team’s lead intact.
The hosts kept their Qatari opposition at bay for much of the first half, but Dheeraj was forced into action in the 40th minute, as a Boli free kick was punched away to safety and Goa neared a halftime lead.
There was more drama just before the end of the half though, as an FC Goa counter attack saw Ishan Pandita released, and having seen the keeper off his line, the forward decided to have a go from distance. The shot, though, was saved comfortably by Al Hajiri, but was a clear indicator that the Gaurs had enough energy in the tank to play on the counter.
Goa defender Ivan Gonzalez bailed his goalkeeper out just moments later, making an important tackle to stop a clear goal-scoring opportunity after some rare mix-up at the back. A strong team effort saw the ISL side maintain a well-earned halftime lead.
The second half brought renewed optimism and yet more of the same in terms of defending for FC Goa, with Dheeraj forced to close down Abdurrahman Al Korbi’s effort in the 47th minute by making himself big and stopping the chance in its tracks.
Goa looked untroubled for much of the half following this effort, and Glan Martins grew in influence as the game went on, even fashioning a great chance of his own in the 72nd minute.
The midfielder found himself with time and space just outside the box, but his shot on goal flew over the bar when it probably should have been on target from that range.
Seriton Fernandes, who had bombed forward down the right time and again did so one more time in the 86th minute and danced his way into the box. The right-back though failed to keep his composure at the crucial moment, allowing the Al Rayyan defence to steal the ball.
That moment cost the Gaurs big time right at the end as Al Rayyan found an equaliser in the 89th minute. This time it was a cross by Abdulaziz Hatem that was spilled momentarily by Dheeraj, allowing Ali Farydoon to react quickest and smash the ball home to make it 1-1.
It was heartbreak for a team that was on the verge of becoming India’s first-ever side to win a game in the AFC Champions League, and as they tried to find a late winner, Dheeraj was forced into one final save.
Deep into stoppage time, Khalid Muftah let fly with a stinging effort, but the defiant Dheeraj kept him out to ensure FC Goa leave with at least a point. It was a tremendous effort from the team in orange, and though the three points were not secured, a statement was surely made.
Goa remain third in Group E following this draw, and play their sixth and final AFC Champions League match against Al Wahda on Thursday, 29 April with kickoff scheduled for 10:30 PM.