KOCHI: It will be a historic moment when an Indian team participates in the group stages of the AFC Champions League but the actual event might be more of a reality check.
FC Goa take on Qatari side Al Rayyan in their first group game next week and there is a lot of optimism surrounding an Indian team getting such an opportunity.
There was a similar kind of optimism when the Indian national team was set to play friendlies against two of the top Asian teams in the form of Oman and UAE.
While the Blue Tigers managed to hold Oman to a draw, they were thoroughly outplayed by UAE in a 6-0 thrashing which exposed the harsh reality that there is a gulf in class between India and the rest of Asia.
As D-Day approaches for the Gaurs, their influential midfielder Brandon Fernandes feels that it is a matter of having a positive mindset going into these games.
Brandon is among the most notable players in Indian football at the moment and having had trials at English clubs like Leicester City and Sunderland, he is among the most talented and experienced as well. However, even the 26-year-old admits that the Champions League will be a new challenge for him.
"It will be a new experience for me as well. The players will have to be mentally strong and play as a team and do it together. We might not be able to play the way we do in the Indian Super League and we'll have to be smarter," said Brandon.
While Brandon is one of the mainstays of the Indian national team and boasts plenty of experience in the ISL and I-League, a lot of domestic players in the team are youngsters with very little experience.
They will be lining up against heavyweight opponents like Persepolis and Al-Rayyan but Brandon suggested that the team doesn't have to be overwhelmed and can just enjoy the moment.
"It will be a very good experience going forward. We can take this as a positive in our careers and when we look back, we'll be able to say we have played at the highest level in Asia and it will be a big thing for us," he added.
Meanwhile, Goa skipper Edu Bedia suggested that the Champions League will be a much bigger challenge than the ISL.
"ISL is a very balanced league in terms of how the teams are set out in terms of the strength of the team. Now we'll enter a competition where we are playing teams for the first time who are at the very best level on the continental stage. Persepolis for example is a team that made the final last season. Keeping in mind the sort of level that they play in, we will have to work hard," said Bedia.
Their head coach Juan Ferrando who recently recovered from Covid-19 wants his team to back themselves.
"We play against teams with a lot of quality but I believe in my team and my squad. And my job is to help them to be competitive," said Ferrando.