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After Qatar show, Gurpreet enters pantheon of India international goalies

Jaydeep Basu



Gurpreet Singh Sandhu
India goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu gave a stellar account of himself against Qatar.

New Delhi: Bob Houghton’s biggest characteristic as India’s national coach was his ability to gauge the limitations of his wards.

His plan, strategy and tactics entirely depended on the quality of footballers he had in hand. He was confident but cautious. Ambitious but quick to apply the brake when things were beyond his control.current sports news

Yet, during his five years stay in India (2006-2011), Bob was reluctant to compromise on one issue – the average height of goalkeepers. The taller they were, the happier he was. Bob was a huge admirer of Subrata Paul’s “incredible courage” but always wished the Bengal boy could have been a couple of inches taller.

It could be the reason why Bob encouraged then age group coaches to work harder on Gurpreet Singh Sandhu and Arindam Bhattacharya. Both are six feet plus. When experienced goalkeeping coaches spoke about “technical issues”, he brushed them aside saying they were paid to work on it.

Sandhu has long proved himself one of India’s finest custodians. He is tall, athletic and unbeatable on his day. Asian champions Qatar learned it the hard way early this week. India owe it to him for the point grabbed at the Jassim Bin Stadium.

Association football has its roots in India since the 19th century. Still, India remain a struggling soccer nation; they are yet to produce a truly world class footballer. At the same time, India have thrown up some exceptionally talented goalkeepers.

Atanu Bhattacharya

Atanu Bhattacharya represented the Asian All Star XI team.

Two of them, the redoubtable Peter Thangaraj and Atanu Bhattacharya, have played for Asian All Star XI. Four of them, Thangaraj, Brahmanand, Paul and Sandhu have been conferred with the Arjuna award.

Some never received the recognition but played some memorable matches for the national team.

Not many will recall the heroics of Bhaskar Ganguly against mighty PSV Eindhoven in the 1982 President’s Cup in Seoul. In the previous match, the Dutch giants routed Bahrain 8-1.

On June 11, Ganguly played the match of his life. He made some incredible saves. India led 1-0 before a defensive lapse cost them dear. Yet, the 1-1 draw was the biggest upset of the meet.

In recent years, Subrata Paul was the man to watch during India’s hapless 2011 Asian Cup campaign in Qatar. India conceded 13 goals in three matches. But for Paul the tally could have been 26. His superlative performance earned him the nickname of “Spiderman”.

1962 Asian Games Indian football team

The 1962 Asian Games winning Indian football team.

Indian football never ceases to wonder. Once the national team coach was reportedly put under pressure by top government officials to field a particular goalkeeper. Without it, Thangaraj perhaps wouldn’t have played the historic 1962 Asian Games final in Jakarta.

In 1960 pre-Olympic, India beat Indonesia 2-0 in the crucial encounter in Jakarta. Giant-sized Thangaraj made some stunning saves. Two years later, when India arrived in Jakarta for Asian Games, Thangaraj was yet to fully recover from a bout of fever.

His deputy Pradyut Burman manned India’s goal in the 1962 Asian Games. Burman did a commendable job till the semi-final. Yet, he was shockingly ignored for the final against South Korea, which India won 2-1 to win the gold medal.

subrata paul

Subrata Paul was dubbed “Spiderman” for his 2011 Asian Cup exploits.

Old timers allege top officers at Indian Embassy were still so impressed by Thangaraj’s 1960 performance that they wanted him to play the final. What transpired is not known, but coach Syed Abdul Rahim replaced Burman with Thangaraj.

“It was the shock of my life,” Burman told this correspondent in 2003. “Without my half a dozen saves, India would have never beaten Japan in the group league. Yet, I had to warm the bench in the final.

“The coach knew I was wronged. On our way back to India, we landed in Singapore. Rahim sahib presented me with a wrist watch and simply said jeete raho beta (You may live long, son!). It was a small consolation for me,” Burman said with a bitter laugh.

As we said Indian football never ceases to wonder. Who remembers once Bhaichung Bhutia had to play the goalkeeper for India in an Asian Cup qualifier against Indonesia in 1996?

Goalkeeper Arpan Dey was injured early in the match. And to shock of Indian bench, Dey’s replacement, Yusuf Ansari earned a red card within minutes.

Bhutia had to stand under the bar. He tried his best in the unusual position but could not stop Indonesia from winning easily in that night of disaster.