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Why Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is an embodiment of Igor Stimac's India!

08:28 EAT 09/09/2019
Gurpreet Singh
The change the Croatian coach has implemented to the Indian team is most pronounced in custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu...

One of the moments of India's 2-1 defeat to Oman in their 2022 World Cup Round Two qualifying opener was a stunning save Blue Tigers' custodian Gurpreet Singh Sandhu pulled off late on in the first half.

Omani forward Abdulaziz Al Maqbali had ghosted in between centre-back Sandesh Jhingan and right-back Rahul Bheke and got a point-blank header away which seemed set to bulge the net. However, Gurpreet managed to claw the ball away in sensational fashion, helping India reach the break ahead.

In fact, Gurpreet had a solid match, pulling off numerous saves and snuffing out dangerous crosses with some assured catching and handling. However, it was not his saves or general command of the area that stood out in his game, or rather India's game.

It was instead the way Gurpreet influenced India's general game play that stood out. Prior to Igor Stimac's arrival as the India head coach, India were more known to be a long ball team which used to play direct whenever they ventured forward.

Gurpreet, being the tall custodian that he is, has a good goalkick in him and the long punt was invariably used most of the times.

However, since Stimac has taken charge, the emphasis has been on building attacks from the back. There is a clear and defined style of play which involves the centre-backs receiving balls from the goalkeeper and spraying it wide or to the midfield.

Stimac has had few opportunities to mould the team's mindset to his style of play and the signs of the impact are already there.

The attack starts with the goalkeeper for the Croatian coach and the number of long punts that Gurpreet resorts to have come drastically down. In fact, during the Oman match, Gurpreet took just one or two long kicks. The rest were all passes to his centre-backs or Rowllin Borges, who would often drop deep in between Jhingan and Adil Khan to facilitate the gameplay.

And on the rare occasion that Gurpreet did utilise the long kick, Stimac's displeasure was evident on the touchline.

Going by the way India matched and, at times, outfought Oman, the style of play is benefitting the team. There is more confidence in the Indian team that they can play ball with stronger teams on the continent, something that was a distant dream in the past.

There was a time when most of the fans and well-wishers would consider a 2-1 loss to a West Asian giant like Oman a brilliant result for India. But the lingering feeling from last Thursday's result was one of utter disappointment. That tells the story, doesn't it?

Former coach Stephen Constantine's prudent style of play helped India climb the ladder from the depths they found themselves in 2015. Now, Stimac's calculative style promises to establish India as a footballing nation of repute on the continent.

Tuesday's game against Qatar might be a huge mismatch but expect India to stick to their confident approach.