Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has been one of the top performers in the Indian National Team squad since 2015. Ahead of India’s campaign in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, Sandhu spoke at length about India’s opponents, the Goalkeeper’s role, the understanding with the defensive line, his learnings from Subrata Paul and much more. EXCERPTS:
The team will be up against Thailand, UAE and Bahrain at the group stage. Who do you think will be our toughest opponent?
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.
How important is the communication between you and the defenders? How do you improve and work upon it?
Once you play with each other and gain confidence, it gets better. The more you play together, the trust level increases. Communication between the defenders and goalkeeper is a hallmark of a strong team and in my opinion, we have done well in that respect.
Subrata Pal rose to the occasion in the 2011 Asian Cup and was praised across the Continent for his performance. Do feel any pressure this time?
Even at that point in time, with no disrespect to someone like Subrata-bhai, I felt that I should be the one playing (laughs aloud) and utters: ‘Just kidding.’
I had that desire to play for the country and it was an eye-opener for me the manner he played. He was absolutely stunning and made a number of brilliant saves.
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 strong team performance, and be a difficult team to play against.
How would you compare the two Indian teams -- the one from 2011 and the current batch?
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 teams 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.
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.
What are your memories from the 2011 AFC Asian Cup campaign?
It was very special as it was my first senior team experience. Training alongside the biggest names in Indian football was something that I never expected. I tried to take every single day as it came, and make every single moment count and learn as much as I could.
Any particular lesson that you learnt being a part of the group at the time?
I learnt a lot of the senior goalkeepers who were there – Subrata-bhai (Paul), Arindam-bhai (Bhattacharya) 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 against the likes of Bhaichung-bhai (Bhutia), Renedy-bhai (Singh) and Sunil-bhai (Chhetri).