Football is the world’s largest sport viewed across more than 200 countries. However, the potential that a country with 1.3 billion people like India could have in this sport has always been a story worth debating upon. While there have been inroads like the Indian Super League (ISL) that have tried to promote football through the grassroots, India remains a country that is obsessed with cricket. The FIFA U17 World Cup (06 October-28 October) will be the first tournament that FIFA will be hosting in India. It is major progress for the development of the sport in the country and there are many reasons why Indian football fans should be excited when the action unfolds two days from now.
The tournament will consist of 24 teams battling it out for glory across 6 cities in India. The biennial showpiece has also been the stepping stone for current footballing stars like. Cesc Fàbregas (Spain and Chelsea), Toni Kroos (Germany and Real Madrid), Landon Donovan (USA and LA Galaxy) and Kelechi Iheanacho (Nigeria and Leicester City). The FIFA U20 World Cup in South Korea earlier this year was a huge success and more will be expected from India as the world now focuses their attention on what India has to offer on one of the grandest stages in world football.
Many see this as a pivotal step for Indian football and there rumours circulating around the football fraternity, so much so that should India be able to host the tournament with a resounding success that the All India Football Federation (AIFF) might also place a bid for the rights to host an U20 World Cup or possibly a Club World Cup in the future, which will only continue to please the football fanatics in India who have long wished to see their icons on a football field in India after having adored them on their TV screens for so long.
What makes the 2017 edition of the FIFA U17 World Cup even more interesting is the fact that the defending champions Nigeria, who also hold the record for most titles with 5 triumphs, have failed to qualify this time around. This confirms that a new champion will be crowned at the Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata on October 28. This in itself serves as an even bigger motivation for all the teams to give it their all on the field and emerge victorious. Perennial contenders at all levels, like Brazil, Germany, France and Spain will be looking to establish their supremacy around the globe.
The hosts, India, have been pitted against the likes of USA, Colombia and Ghana. The odds are stacked against India when they play their opening game against the United States on October 6, but they will be cheered on by millions of Indians watching around the nation and in the confines of the stadium. The team will be coached by Luis Norton de Matos, who during the official draw of the tournament, urged the fans to come to the stadium and be the twelfth man for their home team and experience the game through the stands.
A lot of excitement seems to be in store with the FIFA U17 World Cup hitting all the right notes so far, and one can only assume that this is a sign of good things to come – not only for the sport but also its impact on the Indian masses as football in India attempts to reach the next level. Things can only get better from here.