The Indian national football team returns to the ‘City of Joy’ after eight long years and for goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu life comes a full circle as this is where his journey to the top began.
Thank you Kolkata 🙏 for that electric ⚡ welcome 😍#BackTheBlue 💙 #BlueTigers 🐯 #IndianFootball ⚽ pic.twitter.com/jMoiFL75Rm
— Indian Football Team (@IndianFootball) October 13, 2019
Way back in 2009, as a budding teenager, Gurpreet had joined I-League side East Bengal as a youth player and spent the rest of the season playing for the Kolkata-based team’s youth side.
A year later, in his first derby for East Bengal in the Calcutta Football League, the 6-footer put a memorable performance between the sticks to hold arch-rivals Mohun Bagan to a 0-0 draw.
“It was for the first time I experienced playing before about 100,000 fans. It made me start the journey so it’s a very important match for me.
“This is Indian football’s home and it’s a pleasure to be here with the national team. I am looking forward to this game and challenge in front of the home fans,” Gurpreet told indianexpress.com.
“A full house in Kolkata will be an added advantage. I am excited about it and I know how much importance it holds when people come to this stadium. I have experienced it before. So definitely looking forward to the roars once again.
“But it is all in the past. Now what matters is to get the job done in the next match. Nothing else matters.”
India will be playing their second home match of the 2022 World Cup Qualifiers in Kolkata when they face Bangladesh at the Yuba Bharati Krirangan Salt Lake Stadium on Tuesday.
Coming on the back of a spectacular performance against AFC Asian Cup winners Qatar, Gurpreet said that the entire Indian team was
confident of putting on a good show.
“It helped a lot of young players to get self-confidence. A lot of players got the chance after a long break, be it Mandar Rao Desai, Nikhil Poojary, Manvir Singh. All of them played after a long time and that too against a team like Qatar. We truly believe in them and hopefully they can step up for us in games like the one against Bangladesh.”
However, India’s no 1 under the bar also had a warning for his teammates. “But we all know that Bangladesh is a good team and they play with their heart. They go out with all their energy. They made it tough for Qatar in Bangladesh and nothing can be taken lightly.
“The performance against Qatar was a big boost for the entire team but we must build upon that. We have shown ourselves and the nation that we can perform. So it is very important that we know that and go out on the pitch focused on our job,” he added.
Meanwhile, India suffered an injury blow to their star defender Sandesh Jhingan days ahead of the match but Gurpreet believes that coach Igor Stimac has been astute and has put together a formidable side.
“The coach has been very smart from the start. He has got a mixture of young players so that we have those options of competitiveness in every single position.
“I’m sure we will have players coming in for Sandesh’s position. Sure we will not have his experience but we have players to fill in his position until he’s back,” he concluded.