India faces an uphill task against Puerto Rico

Indian players are put through the paces ahead of Saturday's friendly.—PHOTO: PTI

Goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu is named captain as India (FIFA ranked 154) faces an uphill task against Puerto Rico (114) in an international friendly on Saturday.

Stephen Constantine, National coach, chose the 24-year-old to inspire a young side (average age of the team is 23).

Sunil Chhetri, 24, is fit to play against the Puerto Ricans. “There is no alternative to Chetri,” said Constantine, in response to a query about the experienced striker’s fitness. Gurpreet, the only Indian in UEFA Europa League, will don the captain’s armband.

India will need the custodian (first-team goalkeeper with Norwegian club Stabeak this season) to inspire teammates in front.

Constantine was appreciative of Gurpreet’s attitude. He said: “People often say he went to play abroad. I would say that he stayed out there and continued. A country like Norway is not easy at all. It can be very cold in summers. This guy has been fighting it out for the last three years.”

Constantine had watched Puerto Rico take on United States. “When they come in and around the box, they become very dangerous. In the match against the US, they scored from three one-touch passes.”
Gurpreet, who made some brilliant reflex saves against Iran at Tehran (World Cup Asia Zone qualifier), is expected to raise his game against an attack-minded Puerto Rico at home. India lost by four goals against the highest-ranked Asian side.

Process of development

The Indian coach said: “We always try to put ourselves in situations where we are tested. I would continue to look for those games. It is a process of development,” said Constantine, adding: “The fact that we are playing a side ranked 40 places above us is always an incentive.”

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