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Stimac has been smart in bringing in new players: Gurpreet

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Kolkata, Oct 13: India football team goalkeeper Gurpreet Singh Sandhu on Sunday said coach Igor Stimac has been very smart in introducing a host of new faces so that when important players like centre-back Sandesh Jhingan miss out, the team does not suffer.

Jhingan suffered a tear on the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in his left knee during their 1-1 draw against North East United FC (NEUFC) on Wednesday. The 26-year-old will have to undergo surgery that may rule him out for six months.

India will take on Bangladesh in a World Cup qualifier on October 15 at the Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan in Kolkata.

"Its a very important game for us, no doubt in that. And I hope he (Jhingan) recovers well, and recovers soon from the injury. I think the coach has been very smart from the start that he has brought in the mixture of young players so that we have those options and competitiveness in every single position," Gurpreet told reporters ahead of India's first practice session in Kolkata. They arrived at the city on Sunday after a 10-day camp in Guwahati.

Talking about Jhingan's injury, Gurpreet said: "It's something we didn't want but I'm pretty sure the coaching staff is prepared for that. And we will have players coming in for Sunday's position. We won't have his experience, but we have players that can fill in his position and release back."

India are still to win a game in Group E after losing narrowly to Oman 1-2 and holding Qatar to a famous 0-0 draw. Gurpreet was at his best in Doha last month as he made a host of saves to keep the Asian champions at bay. The 27-year-old however played down the enormity of the draw, saying that he has played tougher games in his career.

"I expected to win. I don't think it's a dream show. It was my job. I played more difficult games but that never came into light maybe because we lost the game. It's not that it's a game that never played before. It was just that against a good opposition. It's time to move on and replicate that in future.

He believes that the experience of playing and getting a point against such a big side was good for the younger players in the team. "A lot of players got the chance after a long break be it Mandar Rao Desai, Nikhil (Poojary), Manveer Singh. All of them played after a long time and that too against a team like Qatar. We truly believe in them and hopefully they can provide us in games like Bangladesh," he said.

Jhingan was brilliant at centre-back too. Asked if he has to shoulder more responsibility in Jhingan's absence, Gurpreet said: "I hope there are other people to take the responsibility as well."

Bangladesh lost 0-2 to Qatar in their last game but gave a good account of themselves at home. They also lost to Afghanistan in their campaign opener.

"We all watched the game. They're a good team. They play with heart and they make it tough for the opposition as well. So it's not an easy game," Gurpreet said.

"They made it really difficult for Qatar. So we just need to make sure that we don't do any mistakes and go out on the pitch playing our strengths," said the Bengaluru FC goalkeeper.

India, placed fourth, have one point from two games while bottom-placed Bangladesh are still to open their account in the five-team group.

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