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FIFA U-17 World Cup: India Embraces the World; FIFA World Cup Set to Get Underway

For ages, India has been branded as a 'sleeping giant' or 'passionate giant' but it's high time that this 'colossal figure' shows some signs of life

Pratik Sagar | News18 Sports

Updated:October 6, 2017, 8:12 AM IST
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FIFA U-17 World Cup: India Embraces the World; FIFA World Cup Set to Get Underway
U-17 Indian team on the eve of their opening match against USA. (Twitter/Indian Football Team)
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New Delhi: India is all-set to host the historic FIFA Under-17 World Cup which is the first tournament of its kind in the football-starved nation like ours. For ages, India has been branded as a 'sleeping giant' or 'passionate giant' but it's high time that this 'colossal figure' shows some signs of life — as far as football is concerned.

Any major upheaval in a country's hierarchy craves for a revolution and revolutionaries like Amarjit Singh Kiyam's along with his band of boys are ready to give it their all to bring about a change in the system and in the mindset of doubters alike.

"We have undergone a lot of sacrifices until now. At the end of the day, we're representing the nation and it matters for us. Really, it's going to be a historic occasion for us as well as the entire nation. Everyone is backing us and it's unarguably a proud moment for us," said skipper Amarjit on the eve of the World Cup.

This tournament puts forward a perfect opportunity for this supposed giant to wake up the sweet music of 'the Beautiful Game' and embrace what majority of the world have enjoying for the past many decades.

Skeptics will say that it is just an U-17 tournament, but they are missing the point here — India is not hosting the tournament to judge their young stars. But it is to give them a taste of what the big superstars around the world feel every four years. Ask the likes of Bhiachung Bhutia and Sunil Chetrri and they will tell you what all they are willing to sacrifice to have gotten an exposure like this during early stages of their careers.

"It's a chance that most of us will almost certainly never get and you have to forgive us for being jealous of you. But pride is the bigger feeling here. We are not going to give you wisdom about dealing with pressure or taking none of it. You have trained hard and this is your time. Take the stage, we will take the stands. Come On, India!," the India captain's message was posted on Bengaluru FC's official twitter handle as he wished on behalf of the club.

As for the football supporters in the our country, it gives them an opportunity to have a glimpse of the next-Ronaldinho, the next-Neymar or the next Tony-Kroos — all of whom dazzled at this humble stage on their way to super-stardom in their respective careers.

One of the biggest names at this age-group is that of Brazil's Vinicius Junior, who is set to join 12-time Uefa Champions League winners Real Madrid next year. However, the prodigious talent is missing after his club refused to release him for the showpiece event.

But there are still enough names to mesmerise the football fans in the 24-team showpiece which will run till October 28 across six cities. England winger Jadon Sancho, American striker Josh Sargent, Abel Ruiz & Ferran Torres of Spain and German captain Jann-Fiete Arp, who have already become the hot properties in club football, are all here.

Rubbing shoulders with these budding stars will be 21 Indian boys who will become the first footballers of this country to play in any FIFA World Cup. India will become the fifth Asian country — after China, Japan, South Korea and UAE — to host the tournament which was started in 1985.

More than sixty years after India declined the invitation to participate in the 1950 FIFA World Cup in Uruguay (when it was an invitational tournament), refusing to play in shoes, the country would be fielding a team in a World Cup.

The likes of captain Amarjit Singh Kiyam, Komal Thatal and Aniket Jadhav will thus accomplish a feat, which eluded legends like Bhaichung Bhutia, I M Vijayan and Sunil Chhetri. With poor infrastructure, nearly non-existent grass-root and youth development and quality coaching system, India have hardly ever been a force even at the regional level.

A successful hosting of the U-17 World Cup is sure to open up chances of other bigger events like the U-20 FIFA World Cup, for which the country has made a bid for the 2019 edition. And also the Club World Cup, where the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have been a regular feature in the last decade.

"We will try to work on the Club World Cup. Originally, my plan was for 2018-19 but now that they have been decided, we shall pitch for 2020-21. So, the momentum that has been built around this U-17 World Cup should not be lost on Indian football. We will have to build up excitement within India," said AIFF President Praful Patel on the eve of the tournament.

India are for sure the rank outsiders in the 17th edition of the tournament and they are unlikely to get past the group stage. They are placed in a tough Group A along with United States, Colombia and two-time champions Ghana. India's main target as has been indicated by the head coach Luis Morton de Matos would be to be competitive and not to concede goals.

Two group toppers and four best third place finishers will qualify for the knock-out round and India are not expected to be one of them.

"USA and for that matter Ghana and Colombia in our group are big sides, top level teams. We know we have a small percentage of winning against the US but you never know what will happen in a game of football," India coach Norton de Matos told reporters at match-eve press conference here.

"We will prepare well for this small percentage and try to make these small possibilities count. We want to fight as a team and with help from the 12th man (the home supporters) we hope we can compete against them," he added.

Three-time champions Brazil, European winners Spain and Mexico are the hot favourites to lift the trophy while two- time champions Ghana, Germany, England and United States will also fancy their chances to go all the way in the tournament. African champions Mali and technically sound and creative Colombia could be the dark horses.

Lincoln helped Brazil U-17 win the South American Under-17 Championship to qualify for India, scoring five goals in eight matches. Spain's 'tiki-taka' style of play will be something to
look forward to. They have wonder-kids like Barcelona's youth team player and captain Abel Ruiz and Valencia starlet Ferran Torres.

While Germany will be relying on their skipper and Hamburg wonder-kid Jann-Fiete Arp and France will be hope that their hot-shot striker Amine Gouiri will fire them to glory in the tournament.

Although, since it's inception, the Under-17 World Cup has been seen a platform to bring forward the stars of tomorrow. But it may be the first time in the tournament's history that the Under-17 World Cup shape up a country's present as well as the future.
| Edited by: Madhav Agarwal
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