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FC Goa's star goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh named in the 2021 AFC Champions League team of the season

Dheeraj Singh made 26 saves, the most by any goalkeeper in the 2021 AFC Champions League. (Image - AIFF)
Dheeraj Singh made 26 saves, the most by any goalkeeper in the 2021 AFC Champions League. (Image - AIFF)

In a first for Indian football, FC Goa's young goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem was named in the 2021 AFC Champions League's official team of the season. In April, FC Goa became the first Indian club to feature in the AFC Champions League group stages.

The Gaurs, drawn alongside some of Asia's heavyweight clubs like Persepolis, Al-Rayyan and Al-Wahda, finished in a respectable third position in the group. Dheeraj Singh was heavily involved in all five matches he played. He notched up two clean sheets and 26 saves, including a penalty, and a save percentage of 86.2%.

FC Goa's Dheeraj Singh is included in the AFC Champions League 2021 Team of the Season, after a fine performance throughout the campaign. It's for the first time an Indian player is featuring in ACL Team of the Season ๐Ÿ‘๐Ÿป๐Ÿ‡ฎ๐Ÿ‡ณ#IndianFootball #FCGoa #ForcaGoa #DheerajSingh https://t.co/R08VULH6iK

The 2021 AFC Champions League came to an end on Tuesday. Al-Hilal Saudi FC lifted their fourth continental title after beating Pohang Steelers 2-0 in the final in Riyadh. Dheeraj is one of only two players from clubs who didn't qualify for the knockout stages to be named in the ACL team of the season. Al-Duhail's Michael Olunga, the tournament's top scorer, is the other.

Dheeraj Singh was FC Goa's MVP in the group stages

FC Goa were defensively very solid throughout the group stages. Teams often found it difficult to score past Dheeraj, who was enjoying the form of his life. On Asia's biggest stage, the 20-year-old displayed no nerves. The Gaurs kept two clean sheets and grinded out back-to-back 0-0 draws against Al-Rayyan and Al-Wahda in their first two matches.

For the third time in #ACL2021 and deservingly so, @dhee_singh01 has been picked as the Gaur of the Match! ๐Ÿ˜#RiseAgain #GOAWAH #FCGoaInAsia https://t.co/65VPxdfBmR

Dheeraj's performance was commended by Al-Wahda manager Henk ten Cate, who called him a "very good goalkeeper." Dheeraj was finally beaten for the first time in the ACL when Persepolis' Iranian international Mehdi Torabi scored from the penalty spot.

While FC Goa narrowly lost to the 2020 ACL runners-up by 2-1, the margin could have been bigger if not for Dheeraj. The young custodian firmly saved Hossein Kanaani's penalty in the same match.

On 26 April, Dheeraj almost earned his third clean sheet and FC Goa's first win had it not been for Al-Rayyan's late equalizer in the 89th minute. Nevertheless, the Gaurs finished the group above the much-fancied and financially stronger Qatari side with three points in six matches.

2021 has been Dheeraj's year

Dheeraj Singh was India's first-choice keeper in the 2017 FIFA U-17 World Cup and he has only gotten better since then. 2021 has definitely been his best year. After spells with Kerala Blasters, ATK and ATK Mohun Bagan in the Indian Super League, the Manipuri seems to have found the right team in FC Goa. He signed for the Gaurs in January this year and the 2021-22 ISL is his first full season with the club.

Internationally, Dheeraj delivered impressive performances in the AFC U-23 Asian Cup qualifiers last month. He saved two penalties in the shootout win over Kyrgyzstan as India finished second in a competitive and tough group.

Although Dheeraj is yet to make his senior international debut, it seems only a matter of time before that happens. The youngster was Igor ล timac's second-choice behind Gurpreet Singh Sandhu during India's SAFF Championship triumph in Maldives in October.

Being named in the ACL team of the season is a milestone achievement for Dheeraj, who continues to make impressive strides between the sticks. India will be hoping that the promising goalkeeper can take the baton from Gurpreet in goal, and become the next big thing in Indian football.

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Edited by Shourjo Chatterjee
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