Goa: Indian Super League (ISL) club FC Goa players feel Indian football has climbed several notches and that the team's qualification for the AFC Champions League (ACL) Group Stage is an offshoot of that success.
The Goan club will take on Qatar's Al Rayyan in the opening match on April 14 in Goa. FC Goa had created history by becoming the first Indian club to qualify for the AFC Champions League Group Stage by virtue of finishing at the top of the ISL table in 2019-20.
"It's a very important step for us. It's not going to be easy. We are not just representing Goa, we are representing the whole country," said goalkeeper Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem, who was part of India's FIFA U-17 World Cup squad in 2017.
Owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, all Group E matches of the tournament will take place in Goa and the state will play host to some top teams such as last year's runners-up Persepolis (Iran), Al-Rayyan (Qatar), and Al-Wahda (UAE), besides FC Goa.
"It's a huge achievement for the state and the country. It's more like a national representation rather than a club or state. The entire nation will be watching us as one and so we ought to give it our all," said midfielder Brandon Fernandes.
Ishan Pandita, who recently made his India debut in the 1-1 draw against Oman in Dubai, says it's an opportunity to make the country proud. "It's a very special feeling. It's not only Goa that we're representing but the whole nation. It's a great opportunity that we have to show Asia and the world that India can play good football," said Pandita.
India team defender, Adil Khan feels it is a "pride and privilege" for the state to host such prestigious matches in such difficult times. "We hope all football fans will back us in all our matches as we give our all, not just for Goa, but for India too."