Photo Credits: FC Goa
FC Goa were denied a historic first win as they were held to a last-gasp 1-1 draw by Al Rayyan in their Group E match of the AFC Champions League at Nehru Stadium, Fatorda on Monday.
Spanish midfielder Jorge Ortiz gave the Gaurs an early lead but Ali Ferydoon struck in the 89th minute to break Goan hearts. The late leveller was a huge blow for the debutants, who had looked like they were heading for their maiden triumph, a first for an Indian club in the group stage of the continental showpiece.
FC Goa came into the tie with a point to prove after having been eliminated from the race for the Round of 16 after Al Wahda's surprise win over group leaders Persepolis. Both teams had failed to secure a win in their previous four matches but it was FC Goa who showed more determination from the start.
Brandon Fernandes sent a deep cross from the centre to Ortiz whose effort was blocked by Al Rayyan goalkeeper Soud Alhajri. The Spaniard, however, regained possession from Alhajri’s poor clearance and slotted the ball home from close range to give FC Goa the lead just three minutes in.
Al Rayyan tried to force their way back into the game, Mohamed Al Aaeldin finding Naif Al Hadhrami lurking inside the box but the midfielder’s attempt was foiled by FC Goa goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh in the 30th minute. Al Rayyan’s persistence almost paid off in the 37th minute when Khalid Muftah muscled his way inside the box but Dheeraj Sigh denied the defender at the near post before stopping Yohan Boli’s free-kick three minutes later.
Ishan Pandita came close to doubling FC Goa’s advantage in first half added time when his effort from distance almost caught Soud Alhajri off guard as Al Rayyan were left trailing 1-0 going into the break.
Abdulrahman Al Korbi could have equalised for Al Rayyan seven minutes into the restart but his tame effort from inside the box was easily dealt with by Dheeraj Singh.
Al Rayyan increased the intensity of their attacks and captain Yaccine Brahimi should have done better in the 53rd minute when he failed to find the target from inside the box off Mowafak Awad’s pass. FC Goa’s best chance of the second half came in the 72nd minute when substitute Romeo Fernandes teed up Glan Martins at the top of the box but the defender blasted his effort over the bar. The missed chances were to prove costly for FC Goa as Al Rayyan equalised in the 89th minute when Ferydoon steered the ball into the back of the net from close range after a fumble by Dheeraj Singh.
FC Goa will play UAE's Al Wahda in their final group match on Thursday while Al Rayyan will aim to end their campaign with a win against Iran's Persepolis FC.
Al Wahda stun Persepolis
In the other group match, Tim Matavz’s early strike ended Persepolis’ perfect record on Monday as Al Wahda recorded a 1-0 win that keeps alive their hopes of advancing to the Round of 16.
Slovenian forward Matavz netted with less than five minutes on the clock to earn Henk ten Cate’s side their third win of the campaign and move them on to 10 points from five games, two behind Persepolis, who still lead the group.
Victory over FC Goa in their final game on Thursday could be enough to take the club from Abu Dhabi into the next phase either as group winners – if Persepolis lose to Al Rayyan – or as one of the three best runners-up finishers from the West zone.
Persepolis went into the game looking for a fifth straight win, but Matavz punished a hesitant defence when he powered into the penalty area, taking advantage of Seyed Jalal Hosseini’s lack of pace to smash a right-foot shot high into the roof of the net.
The Iranians struggled to make an impression in the final third throughout the opening 45 minutes, with only Mehdi Torabi’s cross from the left causing enough concern that Al Wahda goalkeeper Mohammed Al Shamsi was forced to push the ball over the bar.
Instead, it was Al Wahda who looked the more likely to put themselves on the scoresheet again, with former AFC Player of the Year Omar Khrbin going closest when his audacious attempt from inside his own half was tipped over by the backpedalling Hamed Lak.
Persepolis, however, increased the pressure after the interval. Hossein Kanani steered his 53rd-minute header wide while three minutes later Ehsan Pahlavan crashed a shot from outside the area against the crossbar with Al Shamsi beaten. Torabi was next to set his sights on goal, only for his shot to fly over the bar, while substitute Amad Noorollahi glanced his header wide of Al Shamsi’s left post.
Al Wahda’s task was made harder seven minutes from time when Abdullah Anwar was shown a straight red card for a lunge on Ali Shojaei and, from the resulting free-kick, Kanani headed against the woodwork. The Emiratis, however, hung on for the win and remain in contention for a place in the next round.