Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the first Indian Footballer to play in the UEFA Europa Cup feels the team has “become stronger as a unit with every passing game.” In a freewheeling interview, Sandhu speaks at length about the significance of qualifying to the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, the changes in the squad, the resilient back-four, the art of defending and much more. EXCERPTS:
What does it mean for you to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019?
The last time in 2011 I was in the squad and it was a huge experience for me. Since then, qualifying for another edition of the AFC Asian Cup had been a priority for me.
The Asian Cup is a stage where you would want to play in your career simply because you get to play against the best in Asia, all of whom are very talented players. It’s the platform from where you can learn a lot to mature as a player.
What has changed in the squad in the last 12 months?
I think we have become stronger as a unit with every passing game. The work rate has been exceptional and the biggest plus point stays that we have been consistent for the last 12 months. The results are ample proof of that.
The Goalkeeper and the back four's contribution often goes unnoticed. What are the strengths of India's back four?
Such is the nature of the game (laughs aloud), but I need to put this straight. Our good run cannot be attributed to just the back four or the goalkeeper or the midfielders or the strikers. The whole team needs to be credited including the bench. In all of our games, we have defended together as a team and have stayed patient for our breakthroughs.
Which has been the most satisfying victory in recent times?
To me the away victory against Myanmar followed by the victory against the Kyrgyz Republic in Bengaluru will always stay on the top of the list (so far). Both Myanmar and the Kyrgyz Republic are extremely good sides who are very difficult to play against. Victories in those two matches put us in a very advantageous position to qualify for the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019.