Gurpreet was unlucky for the first goal against Australia: India keepers’ coach | Football News

India goalkeepers’ coach Tomislav Rogic absolved Gurpreet Singh Sandhu of any blame for Australia’s first goal and backed the India No.1 to do well against Uzbekistan on Thursday.

India’s Gurpreet Singh Sandhumedi after sustaining an injury (REUTERS)

In an interview to HT on Tuesday, Rogic, speaking through India head coach Igor Stimac who translated from Croatian to English, also said that while playing with feet can be learnt, it is important to focus on a goalkeeper’s primary skill. For ‘keepers as tall as Sandhu (1.98m), passing with feet is a skill more difficult to master than for those smaller in size, he said.

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Rogic — he has worked with former Romania coach Mircea Lucescu and at Club Brugge, Shakhtar Donetsk and Zenit St Petersburg — is assisting regular goalkeepers’ coach Frano Srdarev for the Asian Cup in Qatar. He rejoined the India staff after being with Stimac in 2019 and 2020.

“They are more fearless than when I left,” he said referring to Sandhu, Amrinder Singh and Vishal Kaith, the goalkeepers in the squad. “Their belief in hard work and repetition in training has taken out the fear of making mistakes.”

Sandhu has accepted his part in Jackson Irvine’s goal after he had flapped at a cross from the right. India lost the opening game 0-2. “I’ll put my hand up taking responsibility for what could have been avoided and be dealt better,” he has posted on X, formerly Twitter.

But Rogic, 48, said: “On analysis, we found that Gurpreet’s position was consistent with regards to the ball and the passer. He was unlucky because the ball was in a position where he could not reach or punch it to clear.”

The Croat, who worked with Lucescu at Shakhtar and Zenit, accepted that when teams cannot get out of their back third, they can let in what looks like a silly goal which erases all the dogged defending that had gone on. “You need to give goalkeepers time to breathe. Otherwise, nervousness will increase in him and in the players whose primary job is to defend.”

That is why, he said, the first half was better for India — it was goalless — than the second. “In the first half, apart from excellent defending, India had situations where they passed the ball wide and created chances. But once energy drained out of the attacking players, it became more and more difficult for those behind them.”

That said, Uzbekistan are a team whose playing style is different from Australia and Rogic is hopeful Sandhu will be ready. “Australia’s strength is crosses and attacking the box. They are very good in the air. Based on their style of play, I think Uzbekistan will try far lesser crosses.

“They will possibly attempt more shots from distance and that is something Gurpreet is very good at. Shots from outside the box are his strength. So, I am confident that, if given a chance, he will do very well.”

A conversation with a goalkeepers’ coach would be incomplete without talking about the need for shot-stoppers being good with feet. It has been that way since Pep Guardiola preferred Claudio Bravo over then England keeper Joe Hart at Manchester City in 2016. “A new phenomenon,” said Rogic. “One that can be learnt and needs to be too as it gives teams an edge. Goalkeepers who grew up in countries that didn’t focus in this area of development find it difficult and I am hopeful India’s new generation will pick it up quickly.

“But we must remember that it is not easy for someone as big as Gurpreet. Also, I think it is more important for a goalkeeper to focus on the primary job, which is to make saves.”

Goalkeepers belong to a separate world, said Rogic, so they need 40-50 minutes of training away from the rest of the squad. Unlike most of the 24 teams in Doha, Stimac’s staff had less than two weeks to prepare. So, the focus is on “creating realistic stress the keepers might face in the game.” If it was deliveries “from all areas” against Australia, it is on shots from range now, he said.

Rogic said the three top coaches he has worked with were different in man management and preferred formation. “But all of them want to play attacking football.”

Lucescu, who gave Gheorghe Hagi, the former Romania captain and possibly their greatest player, his debut and has managed in over 100 Champions League games, never sought the players’ opinion. “He barely spoke to them,” said Rogic of the 78-year-old. “Igor is the opposite. He will ask the players for their opinions, and if needed, point out where he thinks they are not right. Leko (the former Croatia international is at Standard Liege, Belgium) can be locked up and also like Igor. Igor and Lucescu prefer 4-2-3-1 but with Leko it is usually 3-5-2.”

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