The India Senior Men’s National Team are set to play an unprecedented number of matches, with back-to-back international tournaments lined up on home turf – the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar, and the SAFF Championship in Bengaluru, followed by the Kings Cup in Thailand (September) and the Merdeka Cup in Malaysia (October).
Currently on a preparation path for the 2023 AFC Asian Cup, which is set to be held in January next year in Qatar, the Blue Tigers are hard at work in their training camp in Bhubaneswar ahead of the Intercontinental Cup. India custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu believes that it is a great opportunity for players to polish their skills.
“Back-to-back tournaments are very good for us. We’ve got a good number of games in front of us, and that’s something that I personally appreciate. I don’t think we have ever done this before,” Gurpreet said to the-aiff.com. “Tournaments such as these are always a challenge, but they also present a great opportunity to polish our skills against good teams and even to win some silverware.
“The Asian Cup is very important for us. We need to play more competitive games at every opportunity we get, which will be good for us in our preparation for the Asian Cup. Just to have the squad come together, spend more time with each other, and to figure out the best ways for the team to play will be good for us,” he said.
India began their camp in Bhubaneswar with 40 players, before the squad was cut short to 27 after a rigorous few days of physical tests by the coaching staff. Facilities provided by the Government of Odisha are currently being used by the team as the players get into shape for the challenges ahead.
“The last few days in the camp have been good. A lot of tests have been done, where we have been put in different situations,” said Gurpreet. “The facilities in Odisha have been amazing for us. Bhubaneswar has everything that a player can ask for. In terms of training facilities, dressing rooms, recovery, gyms, and fitness equipment, it’s all top notch. As a player, you would really like to go to every training session. We are very lucky to have the support of the Odisha Government.”
The guardian of the Indian goal feels that the core of the team has been quite stable over the last year, with the players putting in consistent performances.
“Of course, nothing is permanent in terms of having a secure position on the pitch, but a lot of players have been consistently in the squad since last year, and that’s because they are all performing,” Gurpreet said. “This consistency is very important if we expect the team to go places. Few have also come back from injuries, which is always a good sign.”
Earlier this year, at the Tri-Nation Cup in Imphal, where India beat Myanmar (1-0) and the Kyrgyz Republic (2-0) to lift the trophy, both Gurpreet and Amrinder Singh jointly won the ‘Goalkeeper of the Tournament’ award. While the former remains numero uno in the eyes of head coach Igor Stimac, Gurpreet feels that there is more a sense of camaraderie, rather than competitiveness, between different players of the same position.
“The relation between the players is extremely good. There is competition for places in a way, but we are like brothers, and we all know that either of us can slot in and do the job on a given day,” he said. “It’s an honour to play for the country and whenever given the opportunity, we must do justice to it. Of course, we also help each other be in the right frame for such opportunities whenever they present themselves.
“Overall, the desire is to see the team win, than to just be on the pitch,” said he.
The latter half of June and the first week of July, when the SAFF Championship will be played in Bengaluru, is set to be a special affair for Gurpreet. The Sri Kanteerava Stadium, apart from being the familiar turf where Gurpreet has been playing his club football over the last few years, is also an arena where he first donned the Indian jersey.
“I am so excited to play at the Kanteerava for the National Team. I got my first India cap at that venue against Iran (2015), and we have had some good matches there since then. The West Block can be amazing and hopefully we can create some new memories too,” he said.