Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: The batch of 2019 has the upper hand over 2011’s
The 2019 AFC Asian Cup is just days away and the Indian national team are all set for what will undoubtedly be a memorable tournament in United Arab Emirates (UAE). Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has been one of India’s top performers over the past few years and his services will be pivotal for India’s hopes of making a mark in the tournament. With the clash against Thailand only a few days away, the Bengaluru FC custodian spoke to the All India Football Federation's (AIFF) media team about what he learned from the 2011 team and what he expects from the Blue Tigers’ group stage opponents.
Serving as an understudy to Subrata Paul during the AFC Asian Cup in 2011, Gurpreet admitted that he took inspiration from Paul’s splendid displays between the sticks. “Even at that point in time, with no disrespect to someone like Subrata-bhai, I felt that I should be the one playing (laughs), just kidding. I had that desire to play for the country and it was an eye-opener for me in the manner he played. He was absolutely stunning and made a number of brilliant saves,” he said.
Despite his supreme shot-stopping ability, Gurpreet spoke on the importance of remaining a stingy team and not affording too much space to opposition attacks. “I feel that as a team, we will work hard to avoid getting into situations where the goalkeeper has to make saves all the time. I would like us to put in a strong team performance and be a difficult team to play against,” he remarked.
When asked to compare the 2011 team to the present batch, Gurpreet insisted that the current squad has a slight edge, “The 2011 side was filled with a number of legends, all of whom were incredibly talented, and played under an incredible coach as well. However, in terms of team development and playing under the same system for a long time, I feel the batch of 2019 has the upper hand. The desire and the fire to learn defines our squad,” he opined.
While continuing on the same note, the 26-year-old attributed the importance of youth development: “I was the youngest player in the 2011 team at 18, and this time we have so many U-23 players in the squad. It highlights the development of the sport at the grassroots level in the last 7-8 years,” he said.
Gurpreet also elaborated on his learnings from the 2011 squad, which were invaluable to his development as a top-class keeper. “I learnt a lot from the senior goalkeepers who were there – Subrata-bhai (Paul), Arindam-bhai (Bhattacharja) and Subhasish-bhai (Roy Chowdhury). Training with them was really enjoyable and I remember trying to copy them and the things they did. Also, I have special memories of playing with the likes of Bhaichung-bhai (Bhutia), Renedy-bhai (Singh) and Sunil-bhai (Chhetri).”
India have been drawn in Group A along with the likes of Bahrain, Thailand and United Arab Emirates (UAE). All three teams will pose stern challenges to the Blue Tigers, but Gurpreet stressed the importance of having a clear approach for each match. “I feel all of them are extremely difficult to play against. No team will come into the Asian Cup without doing their homework. I am sure the other three teams will hold us in high regards as well. All of our three opponents are big challenges to face. We have to be smart in our approach. We have to take it one game at a time, look to get the best possible result in the first game, and then approach the second match accordingly,” he commented.