India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu feels the key to India’s success in the upcoming AFC Asian Cup will be in approaching the games smartly, one at a time. The continental tournament is set to begin from January 5 in the UAE.
India have been clubbed in Group A alongside Thailand, Bahrain and hosts UAE. They play their first match on Sunday against Thailand, followed by games against UAE and Bahrain on January 10 and 14, respectively.
"No team will come into the Asian Cup without doing their homework. I am sure the other three teams will hold us in high regards as well. All of our three opponents are big challenges to face," Gupreet was quoted as saying by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) website.
"We have to be smart in our approach. We have to take it one game at a time, look to get the best possible result in the first game, and then approach the second match accordingly," he added.
Ranked 15th in Asia, India played against three quality sides — China, Oman and Jordan — in their build-up to the Asian Cup. The Stephen Constantine-coached side drew goal-less against China and Oman and lost to Jordan 1-2.
Sandhu insisted that for a team to be successful, communication between defenders and goalkeepers is vital. "Communication between the defenders and goalkeeper is a hallmark of a strong team and in my opinion, we have done well in that respect. Once you play with each other and gain confidence, it gets better. The more you play together, the trust level increases."
In the 2011 edition goalkeeper Subrata Pal rose to the occasion and was praised across the continent for his performance, even earning the nickname ‘Spiderman’. Asked if he feels pressure living up to Pal’s performance, Gurpreet said the tournament was an eye-opener for him.
"Even at that point in time, with no disrespect to someone like Subrata-bhai, I felt that I should be the one playing… Just kidding. I had the desire to play for the country and it was an eye-opener for me the manner he played. He was absolutely stunning and made a number of brilliant saves."
Gurpreet, who has been one of the top performers in the national squad since 2015, said that the "team is working to avoid situations where the goalkeeper has to make saves all the time".
"I would like us to put in strong team performance, and be a difficult team to play against," he added.
The goalkeeper also rated the current squad, that includes several young players, above the 2011 side.
"The 2011 side was filled with a number of legends, all of whom were incredibly talented, and played under an incredible coach. However, in terms of team development and playing under the same system for a long time, I feel the batch of 2019 has the upper hand. The desire and the fire to learn defines our squad."
"I was the youngest player in the 2011 team at 18, and this time we have so many U-23 players in the squad. It highlights the development of the sport at the grassroots level in the last 7-8 years," he said.