Kolkata, Sep 17, 2019-
He lost count of the number of saves he had to make as India recorded a famous 0-0 draw against Asian champions Qatar in a World Cup qualifier, but in terms of physical capacity, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu feels he can do more.
Leading the side in the absence of indisposed Sunil Chhetri, Gurpreet spent on one of his toughest nights in national colours pulling off saves after saves as India kept Qatar, ranked 41 places higher than them, at bay to eke out their first point in Group E.
Qatar enjoyed 63% possession and had 13 shots on target but Gurpreet was unbeatable.
“In terms of result and how mistake less I played, this game would be right up there. But in terms of physical capacity, I can do more. I have faced similar difficulties which have tested me to the limit as well,” Gurpreet told IANS from Bengaluru where he is training with his club side and Indian Super League champions Bengaluru FC.
“It has been a good performance. But I have faced difficult tests like this before. I remember Kyrgyzstan at home, Oman at home in Guwahati…Iran away. Since we got a clean sheet it is more satisfying.
“Even with (Bengaluru FC) BFC, facing Barcelona B, Villarreal B, playing 4.25 SC in North Korea. Those were difficult games too,” said the 27-year old.
With Chhetri not playing, nobody gave India a chance against a side who have scored 19 goals in seven matches and began their World Cup qualifiers with a 6-0 hammering of Afghanistan at home.
“I was really happy and I could not control my emotions (after the game),” said Gurpreet who was very expressive after the final whistle.
“Not for myself but for the team. I saw these ten men in front of me give their everything to get a result. People had zero expectations from us. We had got some stick as well for conceding late (against Oman).”
India led Oman 1-0 in their opener last week but conceded two goals in the last eight minutes to go down 2-1 in Guwahati.
Asked if they believed they can get something from this game, he said the team, coached by Igor Stimac, walked onto the pitch thinking they can even win.
“The mindset was to play fearless football. We had to say to ourselves that we stick together as a unit and make sure that we do less and less mistakes.
“If we stop them from scoring, with every passing minute they will get frustrated and the pressure will be on them.
“We had nothing to lose. They are the home side and champions of Asia. So we wanted to play fearless football whenever we got a chance and that’s what we tried to do.”
India had two chances to score in the second half with Sahal Abdul Samad and Udanta Singh coming close.
“We went into the game thinking we will do anything to win. To hold on and then we might get one or two opportunities at the end, and we did get one or two opportunities in the end,” said Gurpreet who is the first Indian to play in the Europa League for Norwegian club Stabaek FC.
India’s record goalscorer Chhetri had said he lost his voice celebrating the result, and Gurpreet revealed that the 34-year old striker hugged him and said “thank you”.
“I met him in the hotel. When I saw him, he did not say anything. He just hugged me which was very nice. He just said ‘thank you’ and I was like, ‘paaji I just did my job’. And I said where is my bonus which you promised (laughs).”
India, placed fourth in a five-team group after two matches, take on lower-ranked Bangladesh at home on October 15, and Gurpreet urged his teammates to maintain this level of consistency.
“We have just played two games. We need to make sure we have same kind of performance in every single game. We cannot be complacent at all,” he concluded. (Agency)