Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was just 18 years old when he was included in the Indian football team for the 2011 edition of the AFC Asian Cup where they were drawn alongside continental heavyweights Australia, Korea Republic and Bahrain. However, the youngster did not get any game time in the competition and India were ultimately eliminated in the group stages after losing all three of their matches.
Eight years later, Gurpreet is the first choice goalkeeper for the national side and a lot will depend of his performance as the Blue Tigers look to impress at the 2019 AFC Asian Cup. Despite being the second highest ranked team in their group behind hosts UAE , not a lot of experts are betting on them to qualify for the knockout stages but the 26-year-old goalkeeper believes that it will be unwise to underestimate them.
“We need to believe in ourselves. A lot of people might think that India will not be able to qualify from the group stages but it will not be wise to underestimate us. We will play to win. We are not going to playing for a draw and we are going to make it difficult for the other teams to play against us. That is our strong point and we will stick to it,” he told Hindustan Times in an exclusive interview.
India have been clubbed in Group A alongside Thailand, Bahrain and hosts United Arrab Emirates (UAE). They play their first match on Sunday against Thailand, followed by games against UAE (Abu Dhabi) and Bahrain (Sharjah) on January 10 and 14 respectively. While Gurpreet did not divulge much about their strategy ahead of the opener, he explained how the team is preparing for the matches with the help of video footage.
“We have staff members who are constantly assessing the opponents’ gameplay and we are also looking to study up on the teams that we will face in the competition. Right now, our sole focus is on Thailand and after that match, we will start thinking about the other teams in our group,” he said.
Gurpreet has enjoyed a good run of form in the Indian Super League (ISL) this season. The 26-year-old has played 11 matches for Bengaluru FC where he has kept 4 clean sheets with 28 saves and a save percentage of 77. He has also been quite impressive for the national team as he played a played a vital role as the Sunil Chhetri-led side was able to hold both China and Oman to goalless draws.
However, the match against Jordan did not go according to plan as a blunder from Gurpreet resulted in a 2-1 loss for India. He completely misjudged a routine kick from Jordan goalkeeper Amer Shafi and ended up conceding an embarrassing goal in the process. Gurpreet, however, is not letting that mistake affect him mentally and he even joked that it was not the worst goal he has conceded.
“It was surely not a good experience for me but things like that happen in football. What I needed to do was to put that incident in the past and concentrate on the next game. That was exactly what I did and I don’t think it affected me a lot. To be honest, the goal against Jordan was not the worst goal I have conceded in my career and I can’t let that one goal bother me much,” he signed off with a smile.