Want to finish this trip with good memories: Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
Indian men’s senior national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu expects his side to put their best foot forward in their final game of the Hero Tri-Nation International tournament against Kyrgyz Republic at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal, Manipur on Tuesday.
The custodian was on the bench in their 1-0 win over Myanmar in the inaugural game of the tournament, with head coach Igor Stimac choosing Odisha FC’s Amrinder Singh between the sticks.
With Myanmar and Kyrgyz Republic splitting the points in their tie, a draw against the White Falcons would suffice for India to be crowned as champions. Gurpreet, however, believes the team needs to be at their best to strive for a win and should not take their opponents lightly.
“As a team, we just need to be resilient and respect their qualities. They have good individual players but we cannot be on the backfoot all the time. We need to make sure that they as a team also feel vulnerable because every team does, they will do and make sure that we strike when we get a chance,” Gurpreet said in an interaction with the-aiff.com.
“They are a very good team. I think the reason that result happened last night was Myanmar with the way they fought, and the way they were showing up physically. Every single duel they were there. Obviously, Kyrgyz Republic missed a couple of chances but Myanmar played the long game,” the custodian said.
The Bengaluru FC player is no stranger to playing against Kyrgyz Republic, having played twice against them in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers in 2019. He shared his experiences on what it was like playing against the White Falcons.
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“We had a couple of close and nail-biting games against them. Our 1-0 home win against them was one of my best games with the National Team. They had, and still have, very good attacking players who can play the ball,” he mentioned.
The Blue Tigers had qualified for the 2019 edition of the AFC Asian Cup before going down fighting 2-1 in the second leg.
“We lost the away match against them, but it was a very respectable game. We went at each other throughout the 90 minutes. We didn't have Sunil (Chhetri) bhai in that match and were 0-2 down at half-time. Jeje (Lalpekhlua) pulled one back, and we were very close to getting the equaliser too. We did well as a team and stuck together,” he added.
With the culmination of the Hero ISL on March 18, players from ATK Mohun Bagan and Bengaluru FC – the finalists of the league – weren’t available for selection, including the 31-year-old. Having suffered defeat in the final, Gurpreet was looking forward to getting back with the national team.
“It's obviously difficult to play after losing the final. There are no two ways about it. However, when it’s about the national team, you're always eager to come back. You want to get up, go again, and play the next game as soon as possible because that’s the best way to forget about the past game,” he commented.
One of the senior players in the national team setup, the shot-stopper is confident of his team’s display against Kyrgyz Republic now that everyone is available for selection.
“Everyone is fit and available. Everyone wants to play this game because it’s one of the tougher games and we want to finish this trip with good memories and hopefully, we have more games here (Manipur) again,” Gurpreet said.
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The Blue Tigers also have two important tasks ahead of them after the Hero Tri-Nation tournament with the SAFF Championships and the 2023 AFC Asian Cup coming up. The shot-stopper – who made his national team debut against Iran in the AFC Asian Cup Qualifiers – feels the additional number of fixtures in the Hero ISL will help players in the long run.
“I think we’ve had a good number of games now in the Hero ISL season and I really hope that it continues in the ext season as well. Now we have played two friendlies and we need to make sure that we are playing games in every single FIFA window because the more we are playing games as a team, as a national team getting together, the more it is, the better for us,” he said.
“So I really hope we use the upcoming year and hope to protect our players because you don’t want important players to be injured for the Asian Cup. The number of games is higher. I remember the first ISL season, I played 20 games including the final and this year I have played 24 games. So I think if the trend goes on like this, and hopefully, more teams are going to come now. So slowly but steadily we are in the right direction in terms of the number of games,” he concluded.