By Vishesh Roy
New Delhi [India], March 19 (ANI): After not playing an international match for almost 15 months, the Blue Tigers will finally be taking the field in the upcoming international friendlies against Oman and UAE. While the match against Oman is scheduled for March 25, the match against the UAE is slated for March 29. Both the matches will be held in Dubai.
In an interaction with ANI, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu opened up about the upcoming matches, the role of coach Igor Stimac and how he sees his role as a senior member in the side. The 29-year-old also said that the team would be in good mental space as all members played in the recently-concluded Indian Super League (ISL).
"I think to get an opportunity together again after 14 months itself is a very exciting opportunity for us as players. We love getting involved and getting called up by the national team. The environment and the atmosphere is different to come over here and wear the Indian colours and do training together and prepare for one single goal together because we may be opponents in domestic tournaments but here we have one aim," said Sandhu.
The Blue Tigers last played at the international level in November 2019 in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 World Cup Qualifiers.
"I think it's very important to use these two games as a catapult towards you know those qualifiers because we haven't played together for 14 months. We need to do the process again play as a team, test ourselves out against the good teams in Asia, and make sure that by the time the qualifiers come up we are ready as a team. We know what we have to do on the pitch because in those qualifiers mistakes can't happen and these are the games to test everything out and make sure that we as a team are ready for those qualifiers," he added.
From being the youngest player in the Indian setup in 2010, the goalkeeper has come a long way and now he finds himself in the role where he can shape up budding youngsters and help in grooming and channeling the talent.
Speaking on his role, Sandhu said: "It's amazing to realise that I am getting an opportunity to be a senior player in the national team. There was a time when I was the youngest player in the team -- that was about 11 years ago in 2010. I know how it feels to be a young player in the team so I am very excited about the young faces that we have in the team. It's very important for senior players to help them and tell them to express themselves, help them in any way shape, or form."
"It is very important to give that support to them and also guide them in a way where they don't feel that we are telling too much because they are professionals and they have played some good football in the last six months. I would tell them to take responsibility and not be afraid of making mistakes because football is a game of mistakes as well. It is very important that they help us with the talent and hard work. It is always good to have young blood in the team," he added.
Coach Igor Stimac has already managed to create an identity within this team and Sandhu also accepts the role the coach has played in giving confidence to each member of the Blue Tigers setup.
"I think coach Igor with his limited amount of time as coach of the national team has helped so many of us already. You know the kind of confidence that he gives you, the kind of physically demanding competition that he creates in the team is phenomenal. We have seen so many players transform from the old self and turn into proper machines," said Sandhu.
"One good example that I can give you is Manvir -- the kind of guidance and the system that we have in the team to take care of ourselves and to be physically very very strong. Also to be tactically prepared is one of the plus points of having the coach and his staff. Even when we were not together as a team, it was one of the things which was being discussed as a group. Messages to take care of ourselves and to keep building ourselves was always there and he has a big part in helping me to reach my best potential self. He assured me that physically I can be much better and that has helped me to not only perform better, but also understand the game very well tactically," he added.
When asked how the team will shape up after playing a competitive ISL season 7, Sandhu said: "Definitely having the ISL behind us in our arsenal will help us play these two games because momentum is very important. Everyone in the camp has played games. It's not like you know you can pinpoint one player who hasn't participated in the league -- they have all participated in some way. It is great for us because everyone is available and raring to go. We just need to make sure that we are mentally and physically prepared for these two games." (ANI)