India’s first-choice goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu says a good number of international friendlies against difficult opponents will hold the national team in good stead, going into the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. India are set to play China in October in an international friendly, the first time in 21 years and the first away from home.
For some time, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has also been trying to get a match arranged against Saudi Arabia.
Both China (76) and Saudi Arabia (71) are ranked higher than India (97) in the FIFA charts, and matches against such teams are exactly what Gurpreet and his teammates were looking forward to.
“Facing China is very good news for us. It gives a chance to test ourselves against a good opponent. We have tried to develop into a fighting unit in the last three-four years and we need to use the available windows,” Gurpreet told PTI during a chat.
Availability of windows could be a factor though, the custodian acknowledged “Maybe four to five friendlies against good teams will be an ideal preparation. But it also comes down to teams’ availability and willingness. The AIFF is doing a good job as we try to prepare ourselves for stiff competition from strong opponents.
“There are people who are trying their best to get into the team and that makes it very competitive for all of us. These young boys are always eager to show that they are good enough to play for the national team.” Asked about the influence the talismanic Sunil Chhetri has on the national team, the 26-year-old premier goalkeeper was all praise for the country’s record goal-scorer.
“It’s an honour to play alongside him. He is the most important player in Indian football right now and one of the most important in Indian sports too. His hunger inspires us and he leads by example. I would want him to play as long as I play.” As the discussion turned to murmurs around a few senior players having “issues” with chief coach Stephen Constantine, Gurpreet said that he doesn’t have any problem with the gaffer.
“There are good things that come out (in the media), and there are also bad things. See, the coach is giving us results, we have proved it in the last few years. For me, he is a great coach, and knows what is required.” Three years ago, Gurpreet made history by becoming the first Indian player to play a professional senior game for a top division football club in Europe. He started, and kept a clean sheet in a 6-0 win for his club Stabaek in a Norwegian Cup game, a feat that was lauded all over the country.
Gurpreet, who turns out for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL), said his team has moved from the heartbreaking defeat in last season’s final against Chennaiyin FC. “It’s better to forget it as a professional. We have recovered from it pretty fast. We went to into the Super Cup, and winning it gave us a lot of joy and relief.”
The Red Bull athlete said the team is in great shape to deliver the goods in the ongoing ISL season that started on Saturday. “The training has been going good, there are no major injury worries. Though I was down with chicken pox in the initial phase of our pre-season tour of Spain, I managed to play the games against Villarreal and Barcelona B, which was my aim. You look forward to playing against such teams and put up a good show,” Gurpreet signed off.