Sandeep Singh turned 24 on Saturday. He was born the year India last lost to Pakistan in the World Cup. So, in a sense, he came of age on Sunday.
Match eve saw Sandeep, like the other Indian players, tense, worried, worked up about what lay ahead. “There’s only one thing on my mind today,” Sandeep Singh told the Hindustan Times after Saturday’s practice session. “I am only thinking about tomorrow’s game, so for now, there’s no birthday celebration. We will have party but only when we have beaten Pakistan,” said Sandeep. He added that he wasn’t even taking any calls. “I don’t want to be distracted. I want to keep myself focused on the game and want to stay away from unnecessary pressure.”
India’s age drag-flicker was extremely worried about one thing.
Whether he could make up for what was lost to destiny four years ago — he was accidentally shot by a CRPF guard in a train, en route to India’s World Cup camp in 2006. But this time, he kept his tryst with destiny — his and India’s, when he converted two vital penalty corners that lifted the mood of the team and demoralised Pakistan. India, starting without experienced goalie Adrian D’ Souza, needed Pakistan on the backfoot.
Sandeep, adjudged man-of-the-match, also created the opportunity that allowed Shivendra Singh to score India’s first goal on a rebound from the Pakistan goalkeeper.
For those watching, it was magical stuff. “I was very satisfied with today’s performance while taking the penalty corners,” said Sandeep. “Now there are no more worries and I can concentrate on the next game.”
Coach Jose Brasa was very impressed.
“He played really well and you will see even better (performances) in the coming games. Sandeep was a bit tense on Saturday and I told him to forget everything and concentrate only on game. And it paid off. He was superb.”
Before coming to the ground, the Indians visited the Bangla Sahib Gurudwara. “We talked about it yesterday and decided we would go there in the morning,” said midfielder Sardar Singh. “And it was with the Almighty’s blessings that we did so well.”
Balbir Singh Senior, Manager of the 1975 World Cup winning squad said the team’s strength lay in how they had gelled. “They have played like a single unit and everybody backed each other up. If the game they displayed today is any indication, they have shown that they have the ability to defeat any of the world’s top teams.”
Meanwhile, team sponsors, the Sahara India Pariwar, immediately announced a sum of Rs 2 lakh to each to the players, the coach and the players of the Indian team as a token of appreciation, while Indian Olympic Association chief Suresh Kalmadi announced one lakh apiece.