Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s seemingly neverending wait is finally over. After spending countless hours, covering thousands of miles on the flight and enduring sleepless nights over a possible chance to wear India colours, the Mohali goalkeeper finally realised his much-awaited dream.
On Tuesday evening, before the kick-off of the 2018 Fifa World Cup qualifiers match between India and Iran at Bangalore, head Indian coach Stephen Constantine gave Gurpreet the happiest news of his life.
As it turned out, when the Indian team stepped inside the Sree Kanteerava Stadium, the fans were expecting to see the familiar faces in the playing XI.
However, there was a big surprise in store for them. In the last line of defense, instead of Subrata Pal, a much taller and younger keeper stepped up to take charge of the duty. Gurpreet’s day of reckoning had finally come as the custodian became the 498th player to make his debut for India.
While his debut match didn’t go according to his plans, as India lost 0-3 to their opponents, who are ranked 100 places above them, Gurpreet showed glimpses of his talent, making some crucial saves to save India the further blushes.
“Indian head coach Stephen Constantine does things differently. He knows the caliber of the players and he was waiting for the right moment to hand over the debut to Gurpreet. His debut couldn’t have come against a better team than Iran who are ranked 40th in the world,” shared Surinder Singh, who was Gurpreet’s first coach at St Stephen’s Football Academy.
While there is no doubt that Gurpreet’s debut has been a long time coming, the time it took to win his maiden senior national cap has been baffling. Early this year, the 23-year-old became the lone Indian footballer to play in a competitive match for the first team of a top division European club. Before that, he earned the distinction of being only the fifth Indian footballer to ply his trade for a European club when he signed for Norwegian club, Stabaek FC, in August last year.
But even for a top and exciting talent his Gurpreet, it was hard to break into the playing eleven as he was short on experience. With Subrata Pal in excellent touch and the custodian also donning the role of the Indian skipper, Gurpreet was kept on the fringe.
Many a times on previous occasions, Gurpreet had travelled with his Indian team-mates to Nepal and Guam but didn’t get a chance ito play. But Tuesday’s proved to be the sternest test of his career.
“I talked to him when he was in India for the world cup qualifiers’ matches. He sounded very positive and was waiting to grab the chances. He is still very young and has plenty to offer to the national in the future. He will only get better with time,” said Surender, who has also worked as assistant coach of the Indian under-14 team.
Another city player Sandesh Jhingan earned accolades for his standout performance against Iran. The defender made some timely interceptions and got the maximum cheers from the Indian crowd.