Gurpreet Singh Sandhu names Cristiano Ronaldo, Neymar in dream 5-a-side team, excludes Lionel Messi
By Abhishek Hore
New Delhi, Mar 6 (PTI) Indian football team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu says they will look to erase the ghost of the disastrous outing in 2011 Asian Cup by "giving everything on the pitch" when they compete in the continental event next year.
India were hammered by Asian giants South Korea, Australia and Bahrain in the last edition, conceding 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 told PTI during an interview.
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 custodian 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.
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.
"He has been a very important part of 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 myself to stay fit so that I am available for selection for the Asian Cup, we'll take one step at a time.years and if we keep going like that then we can put up a good fight there.
"My fitness resolution is 'no excuses to 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."
The 26-year-old custodian, who turns out for Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League, added, "Only if you have good, strong hands can you stop and catch those shots aimed towards your goal. When a ball comes flying towards your goal, even the slightest of touches from a strong finger can be the difference between saving a goal or not."
Talking about his stint in Europe, he said, "No disrespect to the level of Indian football, but in Europe, the level was 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 at Norway and put them to use over here. So it has been a mixture and it has been a helpful experience."
Bengaluru FC, in a short span of time, have carved a niche 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 in comparison to the three years I spent at Norway.
"If provided with an opportunity in near future, sure I would be willing for another stint in Europe if I find it worth it."
Gurpreet's dream five-a-side team
The Red Bull athlete is associated with the Neymar Jrs Five Football Tournament - a five-a-side event.
Asked about his dream team for the event, Gurpreet picked Neymar Jr, Andrea Pirlo, N'GoloKant, Cristiano Ronaldo and his national team captain Sunil Chhetri.
When asked about his thoughts on the tournament, he said, "Neymar's signature football tournament is based on the belief that footballers never earn their skills in big stadiums at 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 the mere street into a path. A path to blinding success. Neymar Jr's journey started with a street and a dream and continues with a stadium and a fairy-tale. I feel this tournament has a unique, fast-paced format."