Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: ‘Will give our best in the 2019 Asian Cup’

India was hammered by Asian giants South Korea, Australia and Bahrain in the last edition of the Asian Cup.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu became the first Indian to ever play in Europe’s top division and the only national team player to ever start in a Europa League game, for Norwegian club Stabaek FC in May 2016. (File Photo)   -  Special Arrangement

The  Indian football team goalkeeper, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said the team will look to overcome the ghosts of the disastrous outing in the 2011 Asian Cup by “giving everything on the pitch” when competing in the continental event in 2019.

In the last edition of the tournament, India was hammered by Asian giants South Korea, Australia and Bahrain, as the team conceded a staggering 13 goals in three matches. Things are different though this time around following a fabulous 13-match unbeaten run under coach Stephen Constantine.

“It’s never easy to play against good teams and especially who are regular competitors in the Asian Cup. In 2011, the team gave all their efforts and in 2019 also we will give our everything on the pitch and try to leave an impression,” Sandhu said during an interview.

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He added: “The national team has grown in the last two-three years and if we keep going like that then we can put up a good fight there (in the UAE).”

The lanky goalkeeper is the first Indian to play in Europe’s top division and the only national team player to ever start in a Europa League game, for Norwegian club Stabaek FC in May 2016.

Constantine’s contract was recently renewed by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) amid speculations that some senior players objected to his style of functioning.

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“He has been a very important part in my national team career. He gave me the opportunity to play for India. He has been a very influential person in the national team over the last three years. We have progressed under him.”

Asked about his specific target for the year, Gurpreet said he is seeking to maintain peak fitness through the season. “I want to play as many games possible for the club and country and I want to stay fit so that I am available for selection for the Asian Cup.”

“My resolution is ‘No excuses, and stay fit, anytime anywhere’. It is very important for a goalkeeper to have very strong wrists and forearms. If you have strong hands, you have the ability and the confidence to face a football coming at you at really fast speeds.”

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Gurpreet, 26, who turns out for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League (ISL), added: “Only if you have good, strong hands can you stop and catch those shots aimed at your goal. When a ball comes flying towards your goal, even the slightest of touches from a strong finger can make  the difference.”

Talking about his stint in Europe, Gurpreet said, “No disrespect to the level of Indian football, but in Europe the level is a few notches higher and much more competitive. The atmosphere, the weather - all these things are different. As a goalkeeper, I have tried to stick to the things I learnt in Norway and put them to use over here. It has been a helpful experience.”

Bengaluru FC, in a short span of time, has carved a niche for itself as far as professionalism in Indian football is concerned. “I have a good coaching staff and it has helped me. As a player, I have played more number of games in the past 6-7 months compared to the three years I spent in Norway. If provided with an opportunity in the near future, sure I would be willing for another stint in Europe.”

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The Red Bull athlete is associated with the Neymar Jr’s Five Football Tournament, a five-a-side event. Asked about his dream team for the event, Gurpreet picked Neymar Jr, Andrea Pirlo, N’GoloKante, Cristiano Ronaldo and his national team captain Sunil Chhetri.

When asked about his thoughts on the tournament, Gurpreet said, “Neymar’s signature football tournament is based on the belief that footballers never earn their skills in big stadiums and big clubs. Their journey almost always begins on the streets, with their friends, like it did for Neymar Jr.”

“Most legends started out on a mere, obstacle-filled street, but turned it into a path. A path to success. Neymar Jr’s journey started on the streets. I feel this tournament has a unique, fast-paced format.”

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