New Delhi, December 22: Ahead of India’s participation in the AFC Asian Cup UAE 2019, former Indian captain Gouramangi Singh and scorer of India’s first goal in the AFC Asian Cup 2011 against Bahrain, dubbed the AFC Asian Cup as the biggest challenge in football in Asia.
In an exclusive interview with AIFF, Gouramangi opens up about the team’s preparations, India’s opponents, the challenges, his opinion of the present squad, and a lot more.
How do you think the landscape of Indian Football has changed in recent years and how has it affected the level of the sport in the country?
The landscape for football has changed a lot in the past 4 to 5 years. The national team and Indian Super League teams now give much more importance to sports science, research, academies and future generations which was not the case when I started playing. Now it’s good to see players play on better grounds, get higher level of coaching and travel and play in better conditions from when we first started.
What was your most memorable moment in the Indian national colours?
I was very fortunate to have been part of the national team which won a few trophies. But for me, the victory in the AFC Challenge Cup in New Delhi stands out as it helped us qualify for the AFC Asian Cup Doha 2011, among the top 16 nations.
How different would you say football is now from your time?
I think playing positions are very much the same and not much has changed. However, nowadays there has been a significant shift in paradigm in the manner one prepares for a match, recovers after matches, research, facilities and other support. There is a much more professional approach at present – be it diet control, rehab and many other support systems which we didn’t have in the past.
What’s your assessment of the kind of progress the National Team has done in the last few years?
What is good to see is that the players starting to play now are much better exposed in terms of feedback from coaches, exposure, better opposition, and the kind of feedback they receive from their coaches and staff. The video analysis has played a major role and that wasn’t the case prior. Players have always been determined to do well but now there is a support system that can give you proper feedback on where you can improve, and what are the shortfalls.
Where would playing in the 2011 AFC Asian Cup rank for you among your multiple achievements?
Playing in the AFC Cup in 2011 was the biggest moment in my career especially rubbing shoulders with so many players who had played the FIFA World Cup just a year earlier in 2010.
This time we have Thailand, UAE and Bahrain in the group. How do you rate India’s chances?
I would say UAE would be very strong. Their fans would also come in large numbers. Add to that, the team would be preparing to do well on home soil. I feel that will be our toughest match.
In the two remaining group matches against Thailand and Bahrain, I feel we stand with a chance and it would all boil down to the performance on the day.
Malaysia got a favourable result against Thailand and Bahrain have been up and down with the national team in recent years so we don’t really know what to expect. But at the same time, India achieved an away draw versus China and there is no reason to stay intimidated by them.
Who are our favourite players in the current squad? And your thoughts about the centre-back pairing?
I have played with many of the players in the squad and most are my good friends so don’t really have any favourites. Currently the defensive line of Pritam, Sandesh, Anas, Narayan, Subhasish are doing well. I think it’s more about the entire defence sticking to their job and doing well in this tournament rather than just the pairing.
Anwar Ali & Gouramangi Singh vs Sandesh Jhingan & Anas Edathodika – who would win in a 2v2 battle?
I would love to team up with Anwar like we did in the 2011 Asian Cup, and take on the current defenders in a 2 v 2 or a fun match one day and see who wins.
What is your message to the Indian Team going into the AFC Asian Cup 2019?
Do your best, and at the same time enjoy the moment as we don’t know when this opportunity will come again.
What would be your Dream XI for India over the years?
Having played with so many players over the years it’s difficult to choose a Dream XI. But I have watched a lot and have been lucky to have played with some. So my team will certainly include IM Vijayan, Bhaichung Bhutia, JP Ancheri, Sunil Chhetri, Mahesh Gawli, Deepak Mandal, Renedy Singh, Subrata Paul and myself.