The Indian national team is currently on a preparation path for the forthcoming AFC Asian Cup, scheduled to be held in Qatar in January 2024. The Blue Tigers have a packed schedule ahead, with consecutive international tournaments lined up before they embark on their journey to the continental championship next year.
The Indian players are industriously working at their training camp in Bhubaneswar, displaying unwavering determination and resilience. The AIFF and the coaching staff are fully focused to maximize these training campaigns to ensure that the Indian players are well-prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. In June, the team will participate in the Intercontinental Cup in Bhubaneswar, before heading to Bengaluru for the SAFF Championship.
Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu said that such back-to-back competitions are good for the team.
"Back-to-back tournaments are very good for us. We have got a good number of games in front of us, and that is something that I personally appreciate. I do not think we have ever done this before. Tournaments such as these are always a challenge, but they also present a great opportunity to polish our skills against good teams and even to win some silverware," Sandhu said in an interaction with the-aiff.com.
The Bengaluru FC goalkeeper, who has 57 caps for the Indian national team, sees the demanding schedule as an excellent opportunity for players to build stronger bonds and improve their skill sets.
"The Asian Cup is very important for us. We need to play more competitive games at every opportunity we get, which will be good for us in our preparation for the Asian Cup. Just to have the squad come together, spend more time with each other, and figure out the best ways for the team to play will be good for us," the custodian said.
Having initially started the national camp with 41 members, the Indian national team head coach Igor Stimac has now trimmed the squad down to 27 members after a series of rigorous physical tests. The Blue Tigers seem to be in high spirits within the national camp and are relishing the top-notch facilities provided by the Government of Odisha.
The Indian No.1 goalkeeper has showered praise on the training facilities and also expresses gratitude to the Odisha Government for their continuous support in their quest for improvement every day.
"The last few days in the camp have been good. A lot of tests have been done, where we have been put in different situations. The facilities in Odisha have been amazing for us. Bhubaneswar has everything that a player can ask for. In terms of training facilities, dressing rooms, recovery, gyms, and fitness equipment, it's all top-notch. As a player, you would really like to go to every training session. We are very lucky to have the support of the Odisha Government," he stated.
Players are putting in great effort during training sessions to improve their gameplay. Sandhu recognizes that securing a position in the final team is not guaranteed, but he also believes that the core members of the team have performed consistently to secure their place in the squad.
"Of course, nothing is permanent in terms of having a secure position on the pitch, but a lot of players have been consistently in the squad since last year, and that's because they are all performing. This consistency is very important if we expect the team to go places. Few have also come back from injuries, which is always a good sign," he said.
Sandhu says the level of goalkeeping within the squad is really high. He emphasizes that they share a strong bond among themselves and insists that their unity has helped them push each other to raise their performance levels.
"The relation between the players is extremely good. There is competition for places in a way, but we are like brothers, and we all know that either of us can slot in and do the job on a given day. It's an honour to play for the country and whenever given the opportunity, we must do justice to it. Of course, we also help each other be in the right frame for such opportunities whenever they present themselves," Sandhu opined.
"Overall, the desire is to see the team win, than to just be on the pitch," he added.
Following the Intercontinental Cup, the team will redirect their focus to the SAFF Championship, which is slated to be held in Bengaluru from June 21 to July 4. Sandhu has a strong emotional connection to the city, as it is where he plays his club football and also the venue where he first represented the Indian national team.
"I am so excited to play at the (Sree) Kanteerava (Stadium) for the National Team. I got my first India cap at that venue against Iran (2015), and we have had some good matches there since then. The West Block Blues can be amazing and hopefully, we can create some new memories too," Sandhu concluded. (ANI)