Qatar tie: Meet Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, new India captain after Sunil Chhetri

Head coach Igor Stimac calls the senior pro with 71 caps ‘a natural choice’

Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the new India football captain (photo courtesy: AIFF)
Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the new India football captain (photo courtesy: AIFF)

NH Sports Bureau

It was almost a no-brainer when Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, India’s first-choice goalkeeper with 71 international caps behind him, was named as captain for their make-or-break final second-round match of the 2026 Fifa World Cup qualifier against Qatar in Doha on Tuesday. The match will kick off at Jassim Bin Hamad Stadium at 9.15 pm IST.

The captain’s armband was up for grabs once the talismanic Sunil Chhetri called time on a glittering 19-year-old international career with the Kuwait match last Thursday in Kolkata. ‘’Gurpreet was one of our captains alongside Sunil and Sandesh (Jhingan) for the past five years, so naturally he is the one to take responsibility at this moment,’’ head coach Igor Stimac said.

Gurpreet, now 32, made his international debut back in 2011 and had been no stranger to the captain’s armband – having first led the Blue Tigers against Puerto Rico in 2016 in a friendly. However, his finest moment as captain came in Doha only against Qatar in 2019 in the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, when Gurpreet stood like a rock to deny them for a goalless draw.

The lanky shot stopper also holds the distinction of being the only Indian to play in the Uefa Europa League - a feat he achieved while playing for Norwegian club Stabaek. He also captained the European club when he was 24 years old in rare ‘first’ for Indian football.

Gurpreet continued to show his class when after returning to India in 2017, he joined Bengaluru FC in the Indian Super League, winning the trophy during the 2018-19 season and the Hero Super Cup in 2018. In 2019, he became the 26th Indian footballer to receive the Arjuna Award.

India’s next opponents Qatar, who have already qualified for the third round as group-toppers, have named a largely youthful squad, with 21 out of their 29 players below the age of 24.

The two-time Asian champions were held goalless by Afghanistan in Hofuf, Saudi Arabia on Thursday, in a match they dominated but failed to break down the resolute Afghan defence.

‘’⁠We have watched the Afghanistan versus Qatar game and will work on the attacking transition in the next two days, with a hope to start scoring goals from the chances we create,’’ Stimac said after the Blue Tigers reached Doha late on Saturday. 

With the odds being stacked against them, India had their first practice session in Doha on Sunday evening before the official training session at the match venue on Monday. Should they lose against Qatar, it will be curtains to their hopes for making it to the third round of the Fifa qualifiers.

They will, however, be transferred to the AFC Asian Cup qualifiers third round to battle for a place at the 2027 tournament in Saudi Arabia. However, if they manage to turn the tables on Qatar, India will be in pole position to qualify for the Fifa World Cup Qualifiers third round and a direct spot at the AFC Asian Cup thanks to their much-superior goal difference over Afghanistan. 

If India draw against Qatar, they can still qualify for the third round only if the match between Kuwait and Afghanistan, which kicks off in Kuwait City two hours after India's match, also ends in a draw. In such a scenario, India will finish second in the group with six points (the same as Afghanistan) but with a better goal-difference.

Follow us on: Facebook, Twitter, Google News, Instagram 

Join our official telegram channel (@nationalherald) and stay updated with the latest headlines