There when the Indian Under-22 team takes on Lebanon on the very first day of the AFC Under-22 Championship (qualifiers) at Muscat,the prying eyes of football lovers from Chandigarh will have in fact two reasons to keep track of the national team playing in the gulf country. Primarily because two city footballers,Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Deepak Devrani,will be in action wearing the blue flannels and keeping the name of Chandigarh football resonating high in the tournament. Secondly,Gurpreet,the tall and lanky goalkeeper,will act deputy to Jeje Lalpekhlua in the tournament.
I am very proud of my son. To be named the the vice captain of the Indian team is a big honour not only for him,but also for us. He knows his responsibility and I am sure he will give his best to help the team succeed, shared his mother Harjeet Kaur,who works with the Chandigarh Police.
While Gurpreet was a trainee of St Stephens Football Academy under the tutelage of Surinder Singh,before making his mark at the national scene as the custodian for East Bengal Football Club,Deepak Devrani also paved way to the top after two successful seasons with Pailan Arrows. Gurpreet also did spend some time with erstwhile AIFF XI,now christened Pailan Arrows,before making a successful move to Kolkata.
In fact,their story goes a long way back,to their early days as national hopefuls when both had just begun their careers in Chandigarh. Right from the Indian Under-16 to the Indian Under-19 teams,Gurpreet and Deepak have been there,done that and seen it all. While Gurpreet was the first to get contract for the I-League club following some eye catching performances,Deepak moved to AIFF XI in tow.
Before boarding the flight to Dubai,Gurpreet called me and said he was excited about playing under a new coach and with relatively fresh faces. Despite the fact that Under-22 players are playing under a new coach and a new system,and have not adapted well to the conditions at the gulf country,Gurpreet sounded confident and was in high spirits, said Surinder Singh,coach at St Stephens Football Academy.
Going into the tournament,Gurpreet and company will need much more than luck against hosts Oman,Iraq,United Arabs Emirates and Turkmenistan,the strong teams with which India have been clubbed in Group A of the qualifiers. However,despite warming the benches for the senior Indian team during the AFC Asian Cup last year,the experience which he gained by spending time and sharing the dressing room with Indian stalwarts Bhaichung Bhutia,Sunil Chhetri,Subrata Paul,will definitely come handy during the tournament.
On the other hand,Deepak,coming back from an injury which he picked up towards the fag end of the I-League season,was not even in the reckoning until he proved his fitness to new coach Arthur Papas. His selection has certainly given Harjinder Singh,his coach at Chandigarh Football Academy,something to cheer about. I am happy for Deepak,because he has worked hard. Also,it would have been even better if Bikramjit Singh and Rajinder Kumar had also made it to the squad. But hopefully they will be lucky next time, Harjinder rolled on. Prior to the tournament,the Indian squad was training at the Al Wasl Training Ground in Dubai.