Not India’s first-choice goalkeeper due to past records, I have to earn it everyday: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu hailed the competition for places in the Indian men’s national team as revealed how he had to show his worth everyday on the training pitch to remain India’s first-choice goalkeeper.

India face Afghanistan in their second match of the third round of  AFC Asian Cup qualifiers on Saturday. The Blue Tigers are in pole position in the group having beaten Cambodia 2-0 in their first group match.

Sandhu who came under criticism for his relatively indifferent form in the Hero ISL was strongly backed by India head coach Igor Stimac at the time and the Bengaluru FC goalkeeper is ready to repay the faith when The Blue Tigers face a much stronger opponent as compared to Cambodia in their next match.

Sandu spoke to the media ahead of the match.

Here are the excerpts from his press conference:

You have played against Afghanistan a few times. What do you think of their challenge and which are the weak points in their side that India could exploit?

From my experience Afghanistan has always been a tough side to play against. Obvisouly they have good quality players, experienced players who have played in Europe and who are playing in Europe and that is one of their strong points.

But we love good competition and it's always nice to play against a team who wants to fight because we like to fight as well. As the coach said it only makes sense to win the next game and move on because that's what we are here for and that's what we want to be.

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You always have lot of fans that come out to support you in the Salt Lake stadium. How much do you enjoy playing in this atmosphere while playing in the Indian jersey?

It's very special. The first time I played here at the Salt Lake stadium was against Mohun Bagan for East Bengal, it was a different experience altogether for me as a professional player. And once you get the taste of it you don't want to let go.

I've been lucky enough to experience a full capacity crowd over here and I know how it feels. The last we played against Cambodia, the fans showed up. The first time I played at the Salt Lake for the national team was against Bangladesh, the fans showed up. It was a huge motivation.

Every player who wants to play in front of the fans, there is no better place than Salt Lake stadium where you have passionate football fans. Hopefully they can show up in the next game we play so that they can be a support for us to get a result.

After you had a fairly ordinary Hero ISL season, we had asked Igor Stimac if he was looking to play a new goalkeeper in the national team. But Igor backed you and said you a beast in the box and among the top five goalkeepers in Asia. What are the changes that you have made in the camp as you looked much more confident in recent matches?

Firstly, I'd like to thank the coach for such kind words and high praise because it is very encouraging for any player when coach backs you like that.

It's not that no one else is working. We are as a team working as a team and everyone is doing their job. I do my job as well. I am not getting this spot just because of my previous record or my previous games. I have to show it again. The coach will agree on this because there is very high level of competition for this place and it requires us to perform every single day in the training session and everyone is looking to improve. There are around five goalkeepers fighting for this place.

What I feel I have been doing everyday is to show up everyday show the commitment that I have been putting in the game and try and help the team out by any means possible: to reduce mistakes and try to be that one voice on the pitch which is always encouraging and always making sure that everyone is feeling a bit safer.

Was it a matter of regaining your confidence? Your confidence seemed a bit low in the Hero ISL

In the ISL, I was a bit sick. In February, I had typhoid and that was one of the reasons why I had missed all the games that I didn't play. I felt that was a good opportunity for me to get out of the bubble, get my mindset ready for the camp and the tough games ahead. I knew that I had to work and show that I am still capable of wearing the national jersey. Yes, confidence is key, but hard work and showing up is another thing. Past records don't matter if you are not showing up on the pitch.

The relationship between a goalkeeper and a centre-back is crucial. So how has it been pairing up with Anwar Ali and can you provide a word on his development?

It's been good. It's been a pleasure to see a young centre-back play in front of him. I'm trying to help him. His quality is very high and he is someone who can get the best out of you as well. As a goalkeeper when you see Anwar more comfortable on the ball, it makes me feel better as a goalkeeper while trying to pass the ball to him and also in terms of helping out while communicating. It is something that he has to continue to learn. The more he plays with us in every single game and every single camp, he is going to grow. It has been a pleasure and I wish him very well.

The coach mentioned that it was great to win with a clean sheet. As a goalkeeper how keen are you to not just win against Afghanistan but also win with a clean sheet?

Definitely, that is the aim and the ultimate thing for a team - to win and keep a clean sheet. That were the two things that we spoke about before the match was to win and keep a clean sheet. We will try to replicate that on Saturday because that's how you progress.

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