FIFA U-17 World Cup and its dominating role in teams qualifying for the FIFA World Cup
India is hosting the U17 World Cup in 2017. And as the host nation, they qualify automatically. I love the U17 tournament because it is often a big coming out party for future professionals who have not yet signed pro contracts or made their debuts. Countless top players have played in it. But it is my contention that until India qualifies for the U17 World Cup through the AFC U16 competition, we will keep wasting our breath talking about the senior tournament.
Look, for all those people who think the elite player pool solution is going to bring consistent results that match what we now see Japan, South Korea and even North Korea delivering, the results tell a very different story. What do I mean? I did a little research on World Cup qualification. Simple research. No algorithms. No big data mining. It worked on my envelope and my cocktail napkin, and I deduced a conclusion that is terribly obvious yet I am unsure whether a lot of people get it yet. My eyes might have missed a few things here and there, but the results are so clearly in one direction, they can only be rounding errors!
So this is what I did:
I looked at all the countries that have qualified for the Men’s FIFA World Cup since 2002 (4 World Cups) and then looked to see if those countries had ever qualified for the FIFA U17 World Cup (excluding qualifying for hosting). Please note that the U17 WC was 16 teams until 2007, when it was increased to 24 teams. For the U17 WC, which is held every 2 years I went all the way back to the 2001 tournament.
Amongst the Brazil 2014 countries that have qualified, only five, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Chile, Croatia, Russia, and Greece had not qualified for the U17…that is 5 out of 32! Well, all these countries are also from the two most competitive footballing continents on the planet so it is really not a big deal.
Every country from the AFC had qualified for U17! But when I saw these countries that had not qualified for U17, I thought, let us look at the U20 World Cup as well. In the U20 World Cup, many players have already made their professional debut. All of a sudden the list got even smaller. Only Bosnia & Herzegovina was left. And we know how competitive football is in that region. So 1 country out of 32!
Next I looked at Germany 2010: Only Serbia and Slovenia had not qualified for an U17 or U20 World Cup.
South Africa 2006: Only the former Serbia & Montenegro had not qualified for a U17 or U20 World Cup.
Japan and South Korea 2002: Only Slovenia and Senegal. Again, very competitive continents in Europe and Africa in terms of producing top world talent.
We are talking about 4 countries over 4 World Cups spanning the last 12 years! Note that no AFC country is in the list, and I excluded qualification for hosting! Many of the countries have qualified for the U17 and U20 consistently as well. And for those of you who think Burkina Faso’s runner-up finish in the African Cup of Nations and their playoff run in the World Cup qualifiers is surprising, just see their U17 and U20 qualification record.
So what does it mean? India is highly unlikely to qualify for the World Cup without first qualifying for the U17 or U20, even if they expand the field. So India should focus on qualifying (not by hosting it) for the U17 by advancing through the AFC U16 Championship. And by the way, none of the top Asian countries are just resting on their laurels. They keep pushing the boundary so there is work to do.
Where? At the youngest ages. But how? It is not about starting an academy or putting some investment into grassroots. Barcelona spends something near 10 million euros a year on La Masia, depending on whose figures are to be believed. They are the example everyone looks at. They still saw fit to buy Neymar for an alleged 100 million.
Are we paying attention to the African nations that are producing players competing in the Champion’s League? Many of them do not have the wealth and resources India does. Therefore it is not about infrastructure either. I digress slightly here. The greatest American baseball relief pitcher of all-time, Mariano Rivera used old milk cartons for a glove, and fishing nets and worn out baseballs for a ball. He mastered one pitch and rode that to being the best ever. And I am not suggesting this is socioeconomic either. It is not about the socioeconomic background of the player.
There is a whole different paradigm going on here. Do you understand it? Do you even see it?
PS/ and a hint though really I have explained it many times: The Japanese women’s team has already won the World Cup. The U17 Women’s team just won the U17 title, waxing everyone if I might say…21 goals for, 1 goal against. Beat Spain twice. If you cannot see it in my posts, you might see it through watching them.