Gurpreet Singh Sandhu’s career had taken a bit of a downturn recently – he suffered a hand injury minutes into his historic Europa League debut and lost his place as Norwegian premier division club Stebaek’s first-choice goalkeeper (a collective result of the injury and a change of head coach). Not one to back down, he made a recovery two weeks before expected and is fighting for his place again.

Having gone without action for a considerable time, it was expected that India’s head coach Stephen Constantine would pick Arjuna Awardee Subrata Paul for the international friendly against Puerto Rico in Mumbai. The South Americans are placed 38 places above India in the FIFA rankings and this was going to be a real test of character.

b’A file photo of Gurpreet leading out Team India. AIFF’

 “When the coach called me for a private meeting, which he doesn’t often, I thought he was going to say that I wasn’t playing,” Gurpreet – who has cemented his place as India No 1 – told ScoopWhoop, after India hammered Puerto Rico 4-1 in a gallant fightback in Mumbai at the Andheri Sports Complex.

“But then he said I was captain for the game and I was like… ‘what?'”

The 24-year-old has become used to breaking records recently – he is the only Indian to play in European competition and make a start for a European club in a top division league.

And just like on every occasion, he treated this with unnerving calmness: “I thought there would be jitters, nerves or goosebumps when I led the team out… but there was nothing. Cool as a cucumber,” he said.

“All I was telling myself was that I can’t make mistakes. I had to lead by example, push the team, and ask them to play hard and never give up.”

And it did work for the side. India conceded as early as the 7th minute but fought back with a blitzkrieg to take a 3-1 lead at half-time, with Sunil Chhetri playing a starring role.

Gurpreet will now return to Norway, where his side have lost just one of their last eight games – meaning it’s an uphill task for him to reclaim the goalkeeper’s spot when things are going so well. 

And he is not known to shy away from a fight.

Feature image source: AIFF