A team dinner organised by head coach Igor Stimac on the eve of India’s match against Asian champions Qatar in a World Cup qualifying game last year had lifted the spirits of the players, and the next day India played out a historic 0-0 draw, goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu has revealed.
It was on September 10 last year that India played the memorable game at the Jassim bin Hamad Stadium in Doha. That made India the first team from the continent to register a clean sheet against the Maroons in the year.
Five days prior to the game, the Indian team had lost 1-2 to Oman in Guwahati — conceding twice in the last 10 minutes after taking the lead through skipper Sunil Chhetri in the first half.
“The coach told us that he wanted to take us out for dinner and at the time, it came as a slight surprise to us," Gurpreet Singh Sandhu told AIFF.
“Looking back at it now I can say for sure that it had a very important impact on the whole team. Coming in from the previous match against Oman, we were still upset and angry about that result. But after the team dinner, the tide had completely turned and all of us were now completely focused on the task ahead of us," the custodian, who wore the captain’s armband against the Asian champions, continued.
Central defender Sandesh Jhingan, who became the 27th footballer to win the Arjuna Award last month, recalled the difference in the team’s mentality after the outing and stated that there was a “complete mood change".
“When we got on the bus to go to the restaurant, our frame of mind was still 50-50 - on our 1-2 loss to Oman. It was still playing on our mind. But when we got on the bus to go back to the hotel, everyone had a smile on his face and the determination to succeed against Qatar. There was a complete mood change after the dinner," he revealed.