The custodian has insisted that the national team must be fearless in the upcoming World Cup Qualifiers.

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has, over the past few years, risen to a big stature both in terms of a player and an inspirational figure for the budding talents of the nation. He has been nominated for the Arjuna Award this year and was the only footballer among the nominees, becoming the 26th football player overall to be considered for the national honour, meant for the country’s sportsmen for their outstanding achievements in their respective fields.

The recognition comes on the back of his crucial role in guiding the Indian Super League outfit, Bengaluru FC to their maiden ISL triumph last season. In 2017, Gurpreet also spent two seasons in Norway, playing for Stebaek Fotball and he further went on to deliver impressive performances for the Indian national team in the AFC Asian Cup earlier this year.

However, the 27-year-old is focused on the task at hand, which is the FIFA World Cup 2022 Qualifiers fixture against Oman, to be played on September 5, followed by a tougher game against Asian champions and World Cup hosts, Qatar on September 10. 

Sandhu, while speaking to the Times Of India, reiterated his changed role in the national side after the appointment of Igor Stimac as head coach, which has also resulted in a change of philosophy. Unlike the direct long ball approach adopted by previous manager Stephen Constantine, the attack now starts from the back, with more emphasis on keeping possession. 

Speaking in that context, the goalkeeper said, “I’m no longer just a goalkeeper, but I serve as an extra player. So, I need to be really good with my feet and I’m focusing on improving my footwork. I have been watching videos of Germany’s Manuel Neuer and Manchester City’s Ederson, who have mastered this style.”

Upon receiving the Arjuna Award, the custodian further commented, “I am thrilled and honoured to get the Arjuna. I want this recognition to serve as an inspiration to everyone playing the sport in the country. My joy will then be complete.”

“For now, my focus is on the World Cup Qualifiers. We did well in the Asian Cup because we were fearless. In the Qualifiers, we need to show we are no pushovers. If you show any signs of weakness they would hurt you. It will be demanding, but we have to play as a unit because having a good start is important,” added Gurpreet.

The Bengaluru player also gave concluding remarks on the need for better fitness even as a keeper, as it helps to read the game. He said, “A keeper isn’t only required to be quick and agile these days. He needs to read the game well.

You can do that if you are in a good space physically and mentally. The best way of goalkeeping is to avoid situations where a striker might have an advantage over you. That’s why game-reading is very important, so that you can communicate with your defenders and alert them of a potentially dangerous situation.”