Where is the football World Cup for under-17s happening?

Football, like its more popular cousin cricket, came to India as part of its colonial inheritance, and gained rapid popularity.

Updated - September 30, 2017 10:00 pm IST

Published - September 30, 2017 09:52 pm IST

 Work underway in Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan ahead of FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 in Kolkata on Sunday.

Work underway in Vivekananda Yuba Bharati Krirangan ahead of FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 in Kolkata on Sunday.

One of the oldest football playing nations, India, has reconnected with the world. From October 6, India will host a total of 24 countries for the Under-17 football World Cup to be played over six venues, with Kolkata getting the most number of matches — 10 — including the final on October 28.

Why Kolkata?

Football, like its more popular cousin cricket, came to India as part of its colonial inheritance, and gained rapid popularity. In 1911, when India was still under British rule, a bunch of barefoot natives representing Mohun Bagan defeated the British East York Regiment to win the IFA Shield. The momentous victory was acknowledged as the high point in India’s long football history by none other than the sport’s world governing body, FIFA.

Exactly 106 years later, FIFA sought to turn the clock back to the date and place of Mohun Bagan’s maiden triumph while launching the first World Cup on Indian soil. The world football federation announced that the final would be held in Kolkata, which also boasts of the biggest football stadium (the giant Salt Lake Stadium) in the country. The start of ticket sales for the FIFA Under-17 World Cup was clocked at 19:11 signifying the importance of the year when the 128-year-old club registered the first trophy win in Indian football.

What are the other venues?

Besides Kolkata, the other venues are Guwahati, New Delhi, Mumbai, Goa and Kochi. The first match is slated to be held between host India and the U.S. at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi. The FIFA Under-17 World Cup is a biennial affair and is at the base of the world cups organised by the federation that includes the Under-20 and the senior-level one.

How did India get the event?

Despite its long football history, India maintained an insular position in world football for decades since it won the Asian Games gold in 1962 and the bronze in 1970. The first prod to reconnect with the world came in 2007 when a FIFA delegation headed by its then president Sepp Blatter visited India and was overwhelmed to find that two of the three clubs he visited in Kolkata (Mohun Bagan, set up in 1889, and Mohammedan Sporting in 1891) were older “than the world body I represent.” FIFA or the Federation Internationale de Football Association was founded in 1904. He offered to awaken the “sleeping giant” of world football. This unleashed a steady flow of funds for development from FIFA, prompting the Indian body, All India Football Federation, to take a keen interest.

Hosting a world event needs assurances and financial guarantees from the Central government. After the bosses at the helm of the football administration in India were convinced that they could bid for the Under-17 World Cup, it turned to the Government of India for the necessary assurances. India officially bid for the FIFA U-17 World Cup in November 2013 and succeeded in securing the rights of hosting it in 2017.

Once the bid was won, there was a massive infrastructural shake-up in line with the specifications mandated by FIFA. Six world-class stadiums and practice facilities were set up at the venues.

Does India have a chance?

India, which did not have a proper youth development system, is banking on a team that has prepared on the available talent scouted from across the country.

India started the preparations early in 2015 under Nicolai Adam, but the German coach was removed rather controversially in January 2017, giving the veteran Portuguese coach Luis Norton de Matos around nine months to ready the side for a world challenge. What India can really achieve in its first youth World Cup remains to be seen, but former India captain Bhaichung Bhutia believes that the “prestigious tournament will help to raise the profile of football in the country and if the players produce good results, it will usher in a better future for Indian football.”

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