The Federation, as per its objectives in Vision 2047, has begun the process of maximising the International windows in order to give more international exposure to our players. the-aiff.com is currently present in Imphal to follow the progress of the Senior Men's National Team in the Hero Tri-Nation International Football Tournament.
AIFF Media Team
IMPHAL: Less than 24 hours after suffering a defeat in the gruelling final of the Hero Indian Super League 2022-23, Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was on the plane to Kolkata to join the National Team camp for the Hero Tri-Nation meet in Imphal.
“It's obviously difficult to play after losing the final. There are no two ways about it,” he says. “But when it’s about the National Team, you're always eager to come back. You want to get up, go again, and play the next game as soon as possible because that’s the best way to forget about the past game,” he adds with vigour.
Gurpreet has been in the national setup for 13 years now and is preparing for what would be his third AFC Asian Cup final round campaign next year. The Indian custodian believes utilising each and every international break will be key. The Hero Tri-Nation International Football Tournament is the first step going forward, and the Blue Tigers got off to a good start with a 1-0 victory over Myanmar on Wednesday.
“Rankings are a bit deceiving because Myanmar are a difficult team to play against. But we are experienced enough to not take teams like these lightly.
“Of course, we know there are plenty of things we've got to improve, but playing in a new city, a new stadium, keeping a clean sheet and winning in front of home fans was very crucial. Although I did not play, I could feel the excitement,” says Gurpreet.
Like many players in the Indian squad, it was Gurpreet's first experience in Imphal, one which left him amazed. “I absolutely loved the fans. I heard a lot about the passion for football here from the Manipuri players. It’s a great honour to come here. It was wonderful seeing the stadium packed two hours before kick-off. That's what you play for,” he adds, hoping for more of the same on Tuesday.
India's next opponents Kyrgyz Republic were made to work hard by Myanmar in Saturday’s 1-1 draw, which led Gurpreet to observe, “There isn't a big difference between the two sides. Myanmar were at par with them for the majority of the game. For us, being physical and compact will be beneficial. We need to have very good ball skills, keep the ball and pass it well.”
Gurpreet does have a fair idea about the Kyrgyz side after facing them twice in the 2019 AFC Asian Cup qualifiers. Going by those encounters, he expects a stiff battle. “We had a couple of close and nail-biting games against them. Our 1-0 home win against them was one of my best games with the National Team. They had, and still have, very good attacking players who can play the ball.”
By the time India travelled to face the Kyrgyz Republic in the away fixture, the Blue Tigers had already qualified for the Asian Cup. But it was one of Gurpreet's most memorable learning experiences. "We lost the away match against them, but it was a very respectable game. We went at each other throughout the 90 minutes. We didn't have Sunil bhai in that match and were 0-2 down at half-time. Jeje pulled one back, and we were very close to getting the equaliser too. We did well as a team and stuck together," he shares.
Some may feel a goalkeeper is usually the most isolated player on the pitch, but it does come with a big advantage - being able to view the entire field. Good communication, as such, is one of the underrated aspects of a custodian.
“As a goalkeeper, it's all about communication with your teammates, no matter the opposition,” says Gurpreet. “Against weaker sides, there’s less involvement, but we always need to be sharp. In 50-50 games, we are more involved, and I always think that the ball will come to me, so I need to be in the best possible scenario, make a save, a collection, pick out my teammates and remain concentrated.”