“Sleeping giant of world football” is a connotation which has been bestowed on India for a long while. The Football world for long has viewed India as a nation with tremendous unfulfilled potential in the game. The mammoth scope of the game in the country is clear as light to everyone. While there are a lot of reasons for the failure of the sport in India so far, there are even more reasons to be optimistic the future is bright. In 2017 not only will the world witness future football stars at the U-17 world cup but also a future superpower of the game.
From the 6th of October, India will host the FIFA U-17 World Cup. It is a momentous occasion as for the first time ever India will host a FIFA event. Due to being hosts of the event, the Indian team has qualified for the tournament. It is the first time ever an Indian side will take part in a FIFA tournament at any age level.
The upcoming edition will be 17th in the tournament’s history. The tournament has taken place biennially ever since the first one in 1985. China hosted the inaugural event, where Nigeria emerged as winners. The Super Eagles are also the defending champions and the most successful team in the history of the competition. However, Indian fans won’t get a chance to witness them in action, as they failed to qualify for this year’s edition.
PAST GREAT PLAYERS
While at the moment fans would struggle to recognize most players, the history of the competition has proved it to be a breeding ground for future greats players. The likes of Luis Figo, Totti, Del Piero, Ronaldinho, Casillas, Xavi, Iniesta, and Neymar among many other stars have graced the competition in the past. So look closely, you might just witness a future Ballon d’Or winner.
The 2017 Edition would see 24 countries making their way to India. The teams have been divided into 6 groups. The Top two from each group and four best third-placed teams will advance to the knockout rounds. The 16 team elimination round will require a team to play and win four matches till the final to be crowned champions.
Six Cities across India will host the tournament. The venues which have been allocated matches are Delhi, Mumbai, Guwahati, Kolkata, Goa, and Kochi. The recently refurbished Salt Lake Stadium in Kolkata is the venue for the final. Prior to that, the DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai and Indira Gandhi Stadium in Guwahati will be the setting for the two semi-finals. Group stage encounters of the Indian team are scheduled at the Nehru Stadium in Delhi.
FAVOURITES FOR U-17 WORLD CUP
Despite the young age group on display, be rest assured it will be an immensely competitive tournament. The kids will ultimately have their national team jersey’s on and will be keen to prove their credentials.
The UEFA European U-17 championship held in May gives a good idea on what to expect. Spain defeated England on penalties in the final and those two sides are expected to be strong contenders for the world crown too. Germany like always will have a good shot at the trophy. Away from Europe, despite missing, the to be Real Madrid player Vinicius Junior, Brazil possess a squad flowing with top talents and remain a perennial favourite.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
The vast number of premier fans are sure to be greatly interested in the English team. It consists of 5 players from the highly reputed Chelsea academy. A further 3 players come from Manchester City, with Phil Foden who impressed one and all in Pre Season being the star attraction. Manchester United teen sensation Angel Gomes will also be on the flight to India.
Liverpool and Arsenal also have a player each in the squad while Tottenham Hotspur has two representatives. Despite these names, the biggest attraction in the Three Lions squad would be Borussia Dortmund’s new NO. 7 Jadan Sancho who made a summer move to the German side from Manchester City.
Elsewhere Abel Ruiz will be the star name in the Spanish side coming from the well known Barcelona academy La Masia. He scored a record 17 goals in the recent European U-17 qualification.
Jann Fiete Arp, who recently became the first player to be born after 2000 and play in the Bundesliga playing for Hoffenheim, will don the German colors in India. U.S.A’s Josh Sargent, who has already played in the u20 world cup earlier this year, is a certain hot prospect.
The host nation is sure to attract great attention in this tournament. Hearing the Indian national anthem for the first time ever in a FIFA Tournament will a proud moment for every fan of the game in the country. But the big question remains about how good the Indian squad is and what they can achieve.
Indian fans should keep in mind that their side has only qualified for competition on the virtue of being hosts. It will only be unfair to not have major expectations of them. They finished bottom of their group in the AFC U-16 championship held in Goa last year and hence are likely to be wooden spoons.
Despite that, it is not a team that one can have no hope on. The current group of players has seen a lot of time and money being invested on. This pool of players was assembled in 2015 and have since gone on several exposure trips. The Blue colts have traveled to Germany, South Africa, Brazil and Dubai in the past 2 years.
Portuguese Luis Norton de Matos was appointed as the coach of the side in February 2017 after a run of disappointing results led to Nicolai Adam being sacked. He is a former Benfica B coach who has been critical in the development of young players like Renato Sanches, Bernando Silva, and Victor Lindelof. The playing style of Indian team under Matos is inspired and similar to fellow Portuguese Jose Mourinho.
Aniket Jadhav from Maharashtra is one of the most promising names in the squad. The striker is very highly rated and could surprise the world in the next few days. Another important player of the Indian side is Bengaluru defender Sanjeev Stalin who is known for his energy on the field and also is a dead ball specialist. Captain Amarjit Singh is a natural leader who controls the tempo of play from midfield.
Further playmaker Komal Thatal from Sikkim is a critical member of the squad. He is the main creative force in the team. He is also one of the most sought after players. Minerva Academy’s Anwar Ali was also drafted into the squad in April. The 6 feet tall defender is a solid presence at the back.
However, the Indian team performs at the event, hosting the event is a massive step for football in the country. The experience these players will get not only by playing in the tournament but have got in the preparation is unparalleled. The investment on this team could reap rewards for Indian football in the future. Sunil Chhetri’s statement about him willing to give up “15 years of career to participate in this tournament” speaks volumes about the fantastic experience these young boys have been blessed with.
Indian football is not just benefitting on the field. As a host FIFA country, the nation has been forced to upgrade their footballing infrastructure. It will give youngsters in the country an ideal base to learn their trade. Also, India can now bid for future competitions and invite teams in conditions they will be content playing on.
Ultimately, it’s up to the authorities to build from this. No good will come from just hosting this event. It is up to the AIFF and Governments to make sure that the conditions of the stadium don’t deteriorate. The onus is on the sporting association to ensure that the players continue to be monitored and their talents are optimally utilised.
But that is all for later. For now, its time for India to witness history. A festival of football awaits Indian fans. It’s time for India to showcase its footballing potential to the world. The best youngsters from the world are ready to dazzle India. It’s time that the football fan in India can bask in optimism and dream about a glorious future.