Gurpreet Singh Sandhu was the showstopper (literally) for the visiting Indian side against Qatar in their World Cup qualifiers on Tuesday, 10 September.
Sandhu was single-handedly successful in stopping the Qataris from scoring in the Group E encounter.
Leading the side in the absence of the talismanic Sunil Chhetri, the keeper kept away around two dozen shots from the Indian goal, which also included at least half of the shots on target.
The huge gap in ranking between the two sides was evident. But it was custodian Sandhu who bridged the gap between the two sides. It was his heroics with the gloves that didn’t allow the Qataris to inflict yet another embarassing defeat.
The last and the only time the two sides had met was way back in September 2007 and the middle-east nation had blanked India 6-0.
Gurpreet’s European Sojourn
But this is not the first time that Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has made the right noise in Indian football.
Already a veteran with 33 international caps, Sandhu first broke into the senior side as early as in 2011. But it was only in 2015 when Sandhu first time started for India against Iran during the World Cup qualifiers.
But prior to his India debut, Sandhu was already a big name in the Indian domestic circuit, courtesy his European sojourn – which included many firsts.
After spending four seasons with Kolkata giant East Bengal, Sandhu signed for Norwegian club Stabæk, based in Oslo, on 15 August 2014.
Sandhu became the first Indian footballer to play in a European top division league when he made his league debut for Stabæk in May 2016.
In fact, he is only the fifth Indian to play professionally in Europe after Mohammed Salim, Bhaichung Bhutia, Sunil Chhetri and Subrata Pal, who was also a goalkeeper and Sandhu’s predecessor in the national side.
During his stay at the Norwegian club he went on to become the first Indian player and till date the only Indian footballer to feature in a UEFA Europa League match.
He started the first leg of Stabæk's Europa League First qualifying round tie against Connah's Quay Nomads and played for only 30 minutes.
After spending nearly three years at Stabæk, Gurpreet moved back to India, where he joined his current club – Bengaluru FC.
But his tenure with Stabæk wasn’t his first brush with international football. His first stint in Europe was in 2012. For a month, he had trained with English Premier League club Wigan Athletic and even went on to impress manager Roberto Martinez. But work permit regulations didn’t allow him to ply his trade in England.
Conquests at Home
Since making his debut for East Bengal in 2009-10, Sandhu has laid his hands on most of the prestigious footballing trophies in the country. With East Bengal he won the Calcutta Football League in 2010-11, 2011-12, 2012-13, 2013-14. In 2012, he won the Federation Cup as well as the IFA Shield with the Red-and-Gold brigade.
With Bengaluru FC, he won the Indian Super League last season. The season before that, his side finished second in the final despite topping the league stage.
But despite playing in the I-league for five seasons, it is the only domestic tournament which Sandhu is yet to win.
On a personal front, Sandhu had a great 2019. He recently received the Arjuna Award on 29 August during the National Sports Awards.
With India still left with six more matches in the 2022 World Cup second round Asian qualifiers, more such acts from Sandhu is required to keep India’s World Cup dream alive.