Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is extremely excited to play the Asian Cup qualifiers in Kolkata, which he feels is the home of Indian Football. In a candid chat, Gurpreet opens up about India’s chances in the World Cup, the approach of the Blue Tigers, the significance of qualification to the Asian Cup, the change since 2019, and much more.
How much are you excited as the Blue Tigers embark on the final qualification campaign for the AFC Asian Cup 2023?
It’s a very important time for Indian Football as we have these three important games ahead of us. Personally, I am aware of how this journey goes because I have been lucky enough to experience it before. But it is a bit different this time — as we have only three games, and not 6 games as per the original format. So, it is challenging. But the good part is that we are playing at home, and are extremely excited.
How do you rate India’s chances in the Asian Cup qualifiers?
Every draw in modern-day football is a tricky one. We need to be respectful towards our opponents. Obviously, they have also been preparing for these three matches, and it’s understandable that they have done their homework much like us. We can’t take anyone lightly not at this stage because the stakes are high.
What will our approach be?
Even as much as we need to respect the teams we play, we need to be ruthless in our approach. We need to make sure we go out there to get the result. I believe we should be the one team that earns a ticket to the AFC Asian Cup 2023 from this group.
What does Kolkata mean to you?
Kolkata means football – as simple as that. When we were growing up all we knew was Kolkata is the home of football in India. Anyone who dreams of playing football in India will always cherish this dream of playing in Kolkata, at least once, and at the majestic VYBK.
What is the significance of a qualification to the AFC Asian Cup for Indian Football?
It means progress and that we are doing things right. It is that place where we want to be again and again, and every four years. It’s a stepping stone for us. If we do well in the Asian Cup, there are more chances of us doing better at the World Cup Qualifiers.
Which memory of the 2019 Asian Cup stands out for you?
For me, and for all of us, the entire atmosphere of enjoying a world-class tournament stood out. It was as close as we can get to a World Cup kind of feel. The tournament is so professionally organised. Everything is so proper and sorted out. So that will always be a fond memory. And of course, the memorable game against Thailand which we won 4-1. Hopefully, we can recreate those moments again.
What has changed in the team since 2019?
In 2019 I was still one of the youngsters, but now I am not. I am now in the category of the older players (laughs). Also, the world was struck by covid and things have been very different since then. Our day to day lives have changed – how we approach training sessions, or how we move around in the hotel, and we are much more careful about our lives.
What is your message to the fans?
Shower your support and your love to the Indian National team because we play for you guys. We want Indian football to grow, and without the fans we are nothing.