RIYADH: Al-Rayyan coach and World Cup winner Laurent Blanc believes newcomers FC Goa will not be easy opponents in the AFC Champions League group stages.
And the 55-year-old Frenchman refused to compare Asia’s top club competition to its European counterpart.
History will be made at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, when hosts Goa become the first Indian side to play in the AFC Champions League group stage, while the Qatari club will be looking to make the knockout rounds of the tournament for the first time.
Al-Rayyan, who finished third in the 2020-21 Qatar Stars League, will be making their 12th appearance in the continental showpiece.
“My team has prepared well for this match against FC Goa, and they are ready. This will be my first time coming here and playing in this stadium. We will give our best and it’s good to be here,” Blanc told the AFC official website.
“I want my team to play their best in this competition. This season is going to be very tough considering the rest days between the matches. We all have our targets and ambition, but our focus is on Goa FC and they are not an easy team to beat.”
Because of travel difficulties related to the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, India will host all matches in Group E, which alongside Goa and Al-Rayyan includes Iranian club Persepolis and Al-Wahda of the UAE.
Blanc, the former coach of the French national team and PSG, will be experiencing his first taste of AFC Champions League action, and told his club’s official website that he was pleased with venue where the matches would be taking place.
However, he refused to compare the UEFA Champions League with the AFC Champions League, insisting they were two very different tournaments, and that while the Asian championship was difficult in its own right, it would not be fair to to make comparisons.
Goa coach, Juan Ferrando, will be missing the services of striker Igor Angulo, who won the ISL Golden Boot in his first year in India after scoring 14 goals in 21 games, and it will be up to forwards Devendra Murgaonkar and Ishan Pandita to fill the void left by the 37-year-old Spaniard.
Ferrando, however, can still call on the likes of Ivan Gonzalez, captain Edu Bedia, and Jorge Ortiz, and will hope home advantage can be decisive.
Speaking to the AFC website, the 40-year-old Spanish manager said: “This match is the most important moment for the club and Indian football. We are working hard because we know about the opponents and their level of football.
“It will be an intense match against Al-Rayyan, and the physical conditions are as important as the psychology and mentality of the players. The most important thing is to maintain that level of concentration for every game.”
Bedia called on his teammates to remain focused throughout the game. “It’s a historical match for Indian football to compete in a tournament of this calibre. We have worked very hard in training, we have a lot of ambition, and we’re definitely excited. We will try our best to play our best game forward,” said the 32-year-old midfielder.