Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu: The canopy in the 2019 Qatar desert storm during World Cup Qualifiers

Indian men’s senior football team were off to the perfect start possible in the 2026 FIFA World Cup Qualifiers with a victory in Kuwait. Back at home, times will get more testing as India welcomes Asian champions Qatar on Tuesday here at the Kalinga Stadium.

On paper, Carlos Queiroz’s Qatar are ranked 61 in the world. India are 102. However, history tells us that the contests between the Maroons and the Blue Tigers have been tight and cagey affairs.

The goalless draw in the World Cup Qualifiers in Doha back in 2019 was one of Indian football’s most famous results in recent times. It was only a few months before that Qatar had put three past Japan to lift the Asian Cup trophy.

But on that evening at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium, despite trying every trick in the book, they could not breach the Indian wall called Gurpreet Singh Sandhu.

“It was an unforgettable night for all of us,” said Sandhu, who donned the captain’s armband in the match in the absence of Sunil Chhetri, as quoted by AIFF website.

“I remember going into that game knowing that there was no pressure on us. It wasn’t just one man but all of us together with one thought – to make it difficult for the opponent, play the long game, stay alive for as long as we can and who knows we can get something out of it,” he shared.

Sandhu made as many as 11 saves in the game, however, the humble tall man credits everything to his team. The second fixture in the same qualifiers against Qatar was also a solid defensive performance from the Blue Tigers, with Sandhu making nine saves, although it ended in a 0-1 loss for ten-man India.

Against Kuwait, the 31-year-old earned a record 25th clean sheet for India. But for him, football is about more than just numbers.

“I always felt after that game that I have played tougher games than that (0-0 vs Qatar) but the results didn’t end up in clean sheets. I would say it is definitely in the top five games in my memory,” said Sandhu.

“It means a lot to achieve such numbers (25 clean sheets), and they will mean even more if we keep getting success as a team and move forward. It’s easy to give a goalkeeper more credit for a clean sheet but trust me the 10 players in front earn it first by putting in the work,” he added.

Looking ahead to Tuesday’s clash against Qatar, Sandhu believes that albeit the point in Doha was a historic one, there’s no point harking back to it for encouragement. It’s time to write a new chapter, this time on home soil.

“We are a different team now. More evolved, less scared, more aggressive and hungrier. We don’t need to look that far for inspiration. Now, we have players who have played more football together over the years and are peaking. We have definitely moved upwards from 2019 as a team. Our recent performances are a testament for us to keep pushing and believing,” said the goalkeeper.

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