In April, 23-year-old Gurpreet Singh made history by becoming the first Indian player to play a professional senior game for a top division football club in Europe. He started, and kept a clean sheet in a 6-0 win for his club Stabaek in a Norwegian Cup game. The feat was lauded all over the country.
As he was chosen to play for India in the World Cup qualifiers, the Punjab-based goalkeeper was expected to get a game. However, as India faced Oman at home in their first qualifying game, Gurpreet was left out.
He had joined the team on Monday, landing after training with the Stabaek squad. However, the seasoned Subrata Pal got a chance ahead of him. Pal had a disappointing season in the I-League, where he struggled to make a mark.
It was expected that, with his experience of playing in Norway, Gurpreet would get the nod. He has been getting rave reviews from most experts who have watched him in action. Stabaek in fact have been so impressed they have so far rejected a few offers that have come for the Indian goalie.
Oman captain Ali Al-Habsi, who has seen Gurpreet play, had praised him in the lead up to the qualifier.
India coach Stephen Constantine, however, stressed that the team picked on Thursday was the one that played best together. Gurpreet, who joined the team late, was left on the bench.
Gurpreet gained attention after being signed by the Norwegian club in August last year. He made his European debut in January in a friendly against second-tier side Follo.
However, his start in Stabaek’s win over Runar put the spotlight on him.
Speaking after the match on Thursday, Constantine lamented on the lack of overseas exposure among the India players. With a season in Europe under his belt, Gurpreet’s inclusion in the side could have helped gain that edge.
India next face Guam in an away clash, with a tough game against Iran slated after that. They will need to play their best side, and with Gurpreet available, only a game can help clear all doubts.