Qualifying for AFC Asian Cup would mean we have progressed: India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu

Indian men’s football team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is eager to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup for the second successive edition as he feels it would mean that his team have progressed over the last four years.

India, who qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 made the cut for the tournament after eight long years and have never appeared in back-to-back editions.

The Blue Tigers, who narrowly missed out on the knockpout stages in the United Arab Emirates three years ago, now have a big opportunity to reach the main event once again.

India are the top-ranked team in the Group D of the qualifiers, which also comprises Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Cambodia and will play all the matches on home soil in Kolkata.

Sandhu, who was part of the team in 2019 is keen to make sure India become regular participants in Asia’s premier football competition.

“It (qualification) means progress and that we are doing things right. It is that place where we want to be again and again, and every four years. It’s a stepping stone for us. If we do well in the Asian Cup, there are more chances of us doing better at the World Cup Qualifiers,” Sandhu told the AIFF Media Team in an exclusive interview ahead of the qualifiers.

“It (2019 Asian Cup) was as close as we can get to a World Cup kind of feel. The tournament is so professionally organised. Everything is so proper and sorted out. So that will always be a fond memory. And of course, the memorable game against Thailand which we won 4-1. Hopefully, we can recreate those moments again,” he added.

Also Read: Working on set-pieces and aspects of our attack ahead of Asian Cup qualifiers: India head coach Igor Stimac

However, Sandhu is not expecting an easy ride in the qualifiers as every team will come fully prepared for the matches.

“Every draw in modern-day football is a tricky one. We need to be respectful towards our opponents. Obviously, they have also been preparing for these three matches, and it’s understandable that they have done their homework much like us. We can't take anyone lightly not at this stage because the stakes are high,” he said.

But Sandhu refused to shy away from the favourites tag and suggested that India must ensure they convert their superiority into an Asian Cup berth.

“Even as much as we need to respect the teams we play, we need to be ruthless in our approach. We need to make sure we go out there to get the result. I believe we should be the one team that earns a ticket to the AFC Asian Cup 2023 from this group,” Sandhu said.

Sandhu will face competition for his spot between the sticks but head coach Igor Stimac has reiterated that the 30-year-old remains India’s first choice goalkeeper.

While all the focus might be on the attacking third of the pitch, Sandhu will have to play a huge part if India make the cut to the continental showpiece.

India play Cambodia in the first of three qualifying matches on June 8 before taking on Afghanistan (June 11) and Hong Kong (June 14) in the remaining matches. All the matches will be played at the Salt Lake stadium, in Kolkata.

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