SAFF Championship: Gurpreet Singh Sandhu raises the decibel at Kanteerava to its loudest
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu credited his teammates, who he feels have helped him a lot to prepare for such occasions.
It was yet another night filled with jubilation for the Indian national team, and this time it was showstopper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, who rose to the occasion. The unit, who were meeting Lebanon for the third time in two weeks, started slow also admitted by assistant coach Mahesh Gawli but they picked intensity as the match progressed.
Lebanon too deserved credit for keeping India on their toes in the SAFF Championship semifinal played at the Sree Kanteerava Stadium on Saturday as both sides failed to break the deadlock after the end of 90 minutes plus the injury time. Similar scenes were witnessed during extra time as fans enjoyed some superb end-to-end football, with India majorly dominating the proceedings.
However, when 120 minutes of football failed to separate the two, the responsibility majorly shifted to India's most trusted custodian, who reminded his naysayers why he is among the best in business. The keeper made two saves in the penalty shootout as India defeated Lebanon 4-2 to book a final date against Kuwait, which will be played on Tuesday.
Also Read: Sunil Chhetri and India look for launchpad in SAFF Championship as Asian Cup campaign looms
As Sunil Chhetri successfully converted India's first penalty, the onus was on Gurpreet to give his side an early advantage. The keeper did exactly the same and correctly judged the direction Lebanon skipper Hassan Maatouk would choose to make an excellent save, raising the decibel at Kanteerava to its loudest in the night.
This was not the end as the presence of 6ft. 6' Gurpreet between the sticks and the pressure building with every successful Indian penalty was enough to see Khalil Bader send the ball above the crossbar, somewhat similar to what Riyad Mahrez had done against Liverpool in 2018. “Experience helps, physicality helps, if I was 5ft 4' I wouldn't save that penalty for sure,” the Indian keeper noted after the match.
Remaining firm and backing his abilities were the key elements behind those match-winning saves. "In such situation my job is to make sure that the guy who is shooting feels its not easy for him to beat me,” said Gurpreet explaining his thought process during the tiebreakers.
The no. 1 also credited his colleagues, who he feels have helped him a lot to prepare for such occasions. “I'm lucky we have such good penalty takers in our team and I get to train against them. So when an opportunity like this comes, obviously you can't save every one of them but it helps you know what the penalty taker is thinking.”
Lebanon, on the other hand, made a tactical change right before the shootout but the move didn't pay any dividend. The tourists substituted their no. 1 Mehdi Khalil with Ali Sabesh and coach Aleksandar Ilic confirmed it was a pre-planned strategy. “The decision was made before the match, because Ali Sabeh showed good performance. It's okay sometimes it doesn't work,” he said.