Photo Credit: https://twitter.com/IndSuperLeague/status/1382189369549754370/photo/1
The Gaurs are set to face Al-Rayyan in their Champions League opener.
The stage is set for the Gaurs to engage in yet another battle at the Fatorda. But this time, it is neither the familiar foes, nor the league which they are used to. The Gaurs will play host to some of the fiercest and most decorated clubs of the continent as they are set to make their debut in the AFC Champions League.
The Gaurs will be locking horns with Al-Rayyan SC in their number uno encounter. The club which competes in the Qatar Stars League, will no doubt be a very robust opponent for the hosts, but how tough will they prove to be?
Established in 1967, the club which began as an amateur outfit, soon started competing in the top tier and had fairly successful records in the 1970s and 80s. They got relegated in 1988, but returned to the top tier and won the league in the same year, 1990. The club would however, go on to face a dry run for almost nearly the next two decades, ending up in the second tier. They made their return to the top tier in 2015 and won the league same season, ending a 21-year wait.
Al-Rayyan SC have won the league eight times in their history, but their most recent league title was in the 2015-16 season and have not been able to win the league since then. Despite this, the club has managed to finish at least in the top four every season since then, finishing third in 2016-17,2017-18, fourth in 2018-19, runners-up in 2019-20 and third in 2020-21 season.
The club has been however, far from being a league contender in almost all seasons since their last league title, only coming close to win the title in the 2019-20 season, as they finished behind the league leaders Al-Duhail by one point, but with a better goal difference (+25 against +22). In all other seasons, they were far behind the league leaders, almost falling 15-20 points behind every season with a poor goal difference as well. Their most recent performance, has been anything but convincing, as they only notched up 35 points from 22 matches in the league, winning 10 matches, drawing 5, and losing 7 with a goal difference of +9. Not only that their goal difference has been low, but they only managed to score 31 goals in the entire season. They finished 12 points behind the runners-up Al-Duhail and 25 points behind the league winners Al-Sadd, who had a goal difference of +63 in the league!
The gulf of difference in the quality of the team within their own league raises a question for Laurent Blanc, the manager of the club, who took over the charge from Uruguayan coach Diego Aguirre this season itself. The former Paris Saint-Germain manager will have a challenging task to take his team past the group stage.
The club has also failed to impress at the continental level, as they never made it past the group stage in any of their appearances in the last six editions of the competition.
In 2020 AFC Champions League, the club was thrashed 5-0 by Iranian outfit Esteghlal as the team failed to qualify for the group stage.
In 2019 AFC Champions League, Al-Rayyan finished at the bottom of their group and failed to qualify for the group knockouts, having won just one of their six ties, conceding 17 goals and scoring only 9.
In 2018, they finished third in their group, winning only match in their six ties, and failed to qualify to next round.
In 2017 edition, they finished third in their group, having won two of their six ties, and failed to make it past the group stage.
The team thus has not been able to secure a 50% win rate in any of their previous outings in the league, and with their league performance this season, this is a relatively uphill task for the Qatari outfit.
Given their recent form, Al-Rayyan SC is one of the opponents, the Gaurs will look to secure all points against, if they are to make it past the group stage. The fact that the team will be playing at home in their known conditions, should be an added advantage for the hosts FC Goa.