Doha [Qatar], May 31 (ANI): Indian national team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who had captained the Blue Tigers against Qatar in the first-leg of the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifiers has recollected the mood, sentiment, and the belief which helped India to hold Asian champions Qatar to a goalless draw.
"Being in Qatar brings out a different feeling. It was here in 2011 that I first came over for the AFC Asian Cup. I was 18 then. Then I was here again in 2011 some months later when I toured with the Indian U-23 team for the Olympic Qualifiers. On both occasions I was on the bench -- waiting, and watching for my chance, and imagining a lot. The chance came calling some 8 years later," the official website of All India Football Federation (AIFF) quoted Sandhu as saying.
"In Guwahati in 2019, after the 2-1 loss against Oman in our first match of the FIFA 2022 World Cup Qualifiers, there was pin-drop silence in the dressing room after the final whistle. Everyone was dumbstruck, panting heavily, sipping water. None uttered a word. There was disbelief that we lost after leading 1-0 for 80 minutes. But amidst all that disbelief, there was belief to better it," he added.
The 29-year-old Sandhu had put on a memorable display against Qatar in the first-leg and he went on to make 11 saves in the match to help Blue Tigers walk away with a 0-0 draw in September 2019.
"We flew the next day and when we got to Doha, everything was perfect. The environment, the food, the hotel, the training pitch -- all were so ideal. We used to discuss amongst ourselves -- look at the pitch, look at the stadium. It doesn't get better than this," said Sandhu.
"The plan on match day was to make life difficult for Qatar who are such a talented team. They had won the AFC Asian Cup earlier that year, and were buzzing after playing in the Copa America. We had to stay compact against them, and take our chances whenever we smelt a counter. And with that, we had to fight with everything. Everyone was desperate to contribute -- everyone was trying their best," he added.
Further talking about the match, Gurpreet said: "As a goalkeeper, it's always so assuring to get the first touch of the ball without committing any mistake. That sets the tone for me, and I guess for all goalkeepers. Hence, I always look forward to getting the feel of the ball early.
"I remember they had a corner and someone at the first post in an attempt to head it out flicked the ball. I lost my cool, shouted at him. But soon realised that he tried his best to jump for that extra inch. The clock started ticking, and we started to grow in confidence. The first half ended goallessly. We could gauge the frustrations around as the predictions that we would be whitewashed weren't coming true. It allowed us to breathe a bit more. We realised we were heading in the right direction. 'Take some blows guys, we can do it,' was the sentiment. The pressure was huge, but the belief was more," he added.
India's senior football team will next be seen in action in the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022, and AFC Asian Cup China 2023 Qualifiers, slated to be played from June 3 onwards.
India is scheduled to play Asian Champions Qatar on June 3, Bangladesh on June 7, and Afghanistan on June 15 with all three matches to be played at the Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium, Doha. (ANI)