FC Goa’s 0-0 draw against Qatar’s Al Rayyan in their first ever match of the AFC Champions League broke Indian football Twitter. Many who drew their references of viewing the sport from European football rushed to digitally patent their views on how Asian nights in Goa were legendary (after exactly one match), and how the draw signaled a new dawn for football in the country.
While such hyperbole is often looked at with smugness by those who have seen a few too many new dawns, the excitement around the result by viewers not yet dulled by pessimism is extremely important. It arouses curiosity in the uninitiated and generates interest in an Indian club.
If FC Goa are knocked out of the AFC Champions League in the group stages, which, let’s face it, is highly likely, then just the fact that many first-time viewers took interest in an Indian club would be a success in itself.
While that may be a low bar of expectation from FC Goa in the current campaign, there is absolutely no shame in that, considering the stature of opponents they are up against. In an ideal world, it should also insulate the club from any over-the-top criticism should there be a bad result or two.
‘What were they expecting?’
Well, two matches in, ‘they’ were certainly not expecting two points on the board. Against UAE’s Al Wahda in their second match, FC Goa could have pulled off the quintessential steal. Brandon Fernandes came closest to scoring from either side when he hit the post with a first-time shot a little after 50 minutes. And that was not their only scoring opportunity.
At the other end, just seconds before the final whistle, Dheeraj Singh pulled off a point-blank save from Omar Khrbin to make sure the game ended 0-0. Al Wahda captain Ismail Matar walked off, irritated. That’s exactly what FC Goa set out to do – irritate, and happily.
In a sport that is going through a data revolution, with the revolutionaries seeking to make tangible connections between every cause and effect on and off the pitch, it was an intangible that gave flight to the Gaurs’ wings on the pitch – confidence.
It made the still wet behind the ears Dheeraj Singh shout instructions to his wall telling them to “concentrate and stay focused!” during a free-kick. It made Glan Martins almost recreate his thunderbolt against Mumbai City FC and send Pulasta Dhar on commentary over the edge once again. It emboldened Devendra Murgaonkar to sneak in behind a sleeping Al Wahda defense on the throw-in which eventually resulted in Fernandes hitting the post, which would have been the ultimate act of thievery.
All this, while being highly irritating. Each time Abdulla Hamad or UAE legend Ismail Matar got possession of the ball in midfield, Edu Bedia and Glan Martins would swarm them like bees. Whenever Al Wahda tried to transition quickly in their play, a tactical foul would be made. The Gaurs made fifteen fouls in the match. One every six minutes on average. Each one was worth its weight in gold.
FC Goa’s philosophy is clear. Two banks of four, a low block in defense. Invite the opposition to come and play in their half, like a bantamweight taunting a sumo wrestler. And then hopefully rely on the quickness of thought to hit the opposition on the counter-attack.
The real test, though, will be against Iran’s Persepolis in their next match on the 20th of April. Then again, FC Goa have seemingly passed their previous two ‘real tests’. It begs the question: at what point do old-time fans of Indian football get over the 'Imposter Syndrome' induced by FC Goa in this campaign, and shout from the rooftops about how mammoth these performances really have been?
The next match will go a long way in answering that question too. Meanwhile, FC Goa will continue to irritate happily. And hopefully, steal a few more points while they’re at it.