With the Indian Super League and the I-League both having concluded weeks ago, and the next round of the FIFA World Cup 2022 qualifiers not scheduled to begin until the very end of May, fans of Indian football might be feeling a bit starved of action. That's all set to change on 14 April, however, as FC Goa kick off their AFC Champions League campaign against Qatari side Al Rayyan SC.
Ahead of the tournament, here's a quick run-through of everything you need to know about the AFC Champions League:
Which Indian team is participating in the AFC Champions League?
FC Goa will be participating in the group stages of the AFC Champions League. This will be the first time an Indian club is involved in the group stages of this competition, making it a must-watch moment not only for fans of the Gaurs, but also for fans of Indian football in general. In the Champions League, FC Goa will come up against some of the best teams in Asia, which should make for some exciting match-ups.
What is the format of the AFC Champions League?
The AFC Champions League begins with a round of qualifiers in which teams that have not secured automatic qualification for the group stage face off in a double round-robin stage. Due to the impact that the coronavirus has had on the sporting world, this stage has not been completed in its entirety as of yet, meaning that a few qualification spots are still to be decided. However, fans looking to follow FC Goa need not worry about this as FC Goa has secured direct qualification for the group stage, and were drawn into a group where all teams have been decided.
Following the qualifiers of the Champions League, the tournament proper commences with 40 teams, divided into ten groups of four. Five of these ten groups feature teams from East Asia, while the other five are made up of teams from West Asia. The groups are decided by a draw which is based upon the AFC Club Competitions Ranking, and two teams from the same country cannot be drawn into the same group. Each team faces the other three in their group two times, after which the winning team from each group progresses to the next round. The runners-up of each group also have a chance to qualify for the knockout stage, with six of the best out of 10 moving onwards.
The knockout stage begins right after, but the East and West Asia teams are kept apart right up until the final. The winners of the group stages are drawn against the runners-ups, and at each stage of the knockouts, teams play twice, home and away. The final then sees the winner of the East Asia portion of the draw take on the winner of the West Asia half for the title.
When and where is the 2021 edition of the AFC Champions League taking place?
In an effort to limit the need for travel during the COVID-19 pandemic, the AFC has decided to host matches of individual groups in separate centralised venues. All of FC Goa's matches will be played at the Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in Margao, Goa. The matches will be staged over the course of two weeks, beginning with the first matchday on 14 April and ending with matchday six on 29 April.
What are the match timings for the upcoming AFC Champions League?
FC Goa have been drawn in Group E, and all Group E matches will be played at either 8.00 PM IST or 10.30 PM IST. For all six of FC Goa's matches, the kickoff time is 10:30 PM IST.
14 April: FC Goa vs Al-Rayyan - 10.30 PM IST
17 April: Al-Wahda vs FC Goa - 10:30 PM IST
20 April: Persepolis vs FC Goa - 10:30 PM IST
23 April: FC Goa vs Persepolis - 10:30 PM IST
26 April: Al-Rayyan vs FC Goa - 10:30 PM IST
29 April: FC Goa vs Al-Wahda - 10:30 PM IST
Where can I watch a live stream of the AFC Champions League in India?
All group stage matches of FC Goa in the AFC Champions League will be telecast live on Star Sports 3. Live streaming of the match will be available on Disney+ Hotstar.
FC Goa squad
Goalkeepers: Mohammad Nawaz, Naveen Kumar, Shubham Dhas, Dheeraj Singh Moirangthem
Defenders: Sanson Pereira, Seriton Fernandes, Leander D'Cunha, IvÃ¡n GonzÃ¡lez (Spain), Mohamed Ali, James Donachie (Australia), Aibanbha Dohling, Saviour Gama, Adil Khan
Midfielders: Edu Bedia (Spain), Glan Martins, Princeton Rebello, Brandon Fernandes, Phrangki Buam, Redeem Tlang, Makan Winkle Chothe, Alexander Romario Jesuraj, Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Romeo Fernandes
Forwards: Jorge Ortiz (Spain), Devendra Murgaonkar, Ishan Pandita
Even More Continental Football!
If all this weren't enough to be excited about, Bengaluru FC will also be in action on 14 April, as they take on Nepal Army Club in the second preliminary round of the AFC Cup, the second tier of Asian continental football. There are two Indian teams to look out for in the tournament. While Bengaluru FC will be playing in the second preliminary round on Wednesday, ATK Mohun Bagan, the winners of the 2019-20 I-League season, will only begin their campaign once the group stage begins on 14 May.
Unfortunately, Bengaluru's AFC Cup match against Nepal Army Club will not be broadcast on television, but fans of the Blues can still watch their team in action on the Bengaluru FC Youtube page, where the match will be streamed live.