With all the hosting stadiums having been given the green signal, the FIFA U-17 World Cup promises to put India on the world football map. Looking at the faith entrusted on them by the sport’s global governing body, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel confirmed that they will also be bidding for the 2019 U-20 World Cup, in an attempt to attract high profile youth players to the country.
During the Indian Football Forum (IFF), Patel said, “Ever since India was confirmed as the venue for the U-17 World Cup, we have ensured most of our current focus is to develop these age brackets, so that we can put on a competitive show once the tournament arrives. We also ensured that the national team spends at least couple of years playing together. Now that only the execution part of the work is left, our main goal is to gain hosting rights for the 2019 U-20 World Cup. We will be bidding for the tournament keeping in mind our existent grassroot initiatives.”
He added, “We have already informed the FIFA Competitions Committee about this development and if all the right steps are taken, our senior team will be targeting World Cup qualification in 2022. By that time, even this current batch of youngsters will receive enough exposure to play at the highest level. They will be a well-knit group who will be ready by 2022.”
Patel also reinforced that there has been a recent turnaround in form for the national team, indicated by the current FIFA rankings. He attributes that to the various grass-root level initiatives which have helped young players graduate to the senior level.
He said, “Corporates have started investing heavily into football, with the AFC also looking at India as their next big country. A prime example of this is Bengaluru FC, a three-year-old corporate-backed club which reached the AFC Cup final. Not to forget, the Indian Super League (ISL) has also brought the sport to the masses. The U-17 World Cup has also seen the Indian government take a keen interest in the growth of football. As of now everything seems to be headed in the right direction.”
Patel also stated that the turnout at the AFC Cup final showed how important football relations between both countries are. The 5,000 fan turnout and the strong Indian footballing community were the other topics discussed to improve socio-sporting relations between both countries.