Sandhu does not want to allow Qatar to find their rhythm…
Qatar’s coach Felix Sanchez Bas looked stunned at the sidelines after India held them to a 0-0 draw in the 2022World Cup qualifiers in September 2019. His troops had scored at will against premium Asian sides like Japan but stumbled against India, a team not even in the top 100 of the FIFA rankings.
After the match, he singled out India custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s heroic performance while bemoaning the chances that were spurned by his team.
“Kudos to the Indian national team and the goalkeeper who did not allow us to get the three points,” he commented.
Indeed, Sandhu had been a brick wall during those 90 minutes and helped India achieve one of the most glorious results in its history. Captain Hassan Al Haydos made numerous attempts cutting in from the wide areas, Almoez Ali, Qatar’s most deadly and clinical striker, had shots from close range, but all went in vain. The Bengaluru FC keeper was on his toes and with top-notch reflex and alacrity, he covered all his angles.
The fact that the Maroons had 11 shots on target and yet none went past the keeper is a testimony to the impervious form that he was in on that day.
Interestingly, in the absence of Sunil Chhetri, Sandhu was handed over the captain’s armband. And the 29-year-old grabbed the opportunity to set a benchmark for others to follow.
“To take the pitch without Chhetri bhai was always going to be a daunting task, never mind who the opposition was. But we didn’t let that hurt us. Were we nervous? Maybe. Did we hold our nerves? Yes. Like I said, it wasn’t so much the result than it was the performance that we have to be proud about,” stated the keeper to Goal.
In a battle between David and Goliath, it is fundamental to look at the opposition in the eyes and not blink. And the Indian team did that. Their David-esque perseverance saw them through, even as Qatar were relentless in their attack.
“When you look at the result, it was a 0-0 draw. But it meant so much more than just that, and that was down to the way we turned up for the fight. On paper, this was never a battle of equals but through the course of the game, we matched their superiority with courage of our own,” he explained.
On June 3, when India will take on Qatar once again not many things have changed. The gulf of quality remains between the two sides and to make things worse, this Indian team will be heading into the match without playing a single competitive match for more than two months.
However, the expectation is that the attitude of the players has not changed. However, they will have their task cutout against Qatar who will be eager to put the September 2019 result behind them.
“Top teams have the ability to punish you at the slightest slip-up, and that’s what makes them top teams. They know how to capitalise when the narrowest of openings show. They take their chances, and once they are on song, they become very difficult to contain,” he opined.
But if India need to get something out of the match then the keeper must lead in the manner he did in the previous encounter. The onus will be on him to communicate with his backline, organise them and plug in the spaces. If India give them an inch, they will take a mile. And who knows it better than the man himself.