IT’S WORLD CUP TIME as FIFA U-17 Comes Calling To India
August 2009 was a super month
in the annals of world athletics. August 16, the second day of the 12th IAAF world
championships, 21:35 in the evening: the time was frozen for fractions of a
second. Usain Bolt, a young Jamaican, stunned the world with a magical 9.58
seconds for 100 metres, with pundits claiming it to be at least 20 years ahead
It’s October and time for some world class football. And waiting to see action in full throttle are football fans. A peek into the Jawaharlal Nehru International Stadium in Kochi is testimony enough to the frenzy that’s gathering steam.
Of special mention is the fact that Kochi is playing host to a major and prestigious international football tournament for the first time ever when the FIFA Under-17 World Cup plays a couple of matches here.
The Indian U-17 World Cup team is striving hard to make a good impression at this gala event. They will leave for New Delhi on September 28 to play against US, Ghana and Colombia in the Group A league matches. The Indian team will lock horns with the US on October 6. Indian coach Luis Norton de Matos is realistic about the team’s chances.
“The difference between our team and the rest of the teams is enormous, but if we believe in ourselves we can create an impact in the world cup,” said Matos. He is using friendlies to test some of the fringe players, seeing for himself how they react in a match situation. “The boys are determined to show that the team is organised and that the team can improve in future. Winning is a distant dream but we do not want to lose by a bigger margin,” said Matos. A victory in any of the three group matches will be a major achievement for this Indian side.
The FIFA Under-17 World Cup was the brainchild of the then FIFA secretary-general, Joe Blatter. The global event was named the FIFA U-16 World Championship before being renamed to its current version in 2007. A total of 24 teams from around the globe will descend on India as diehard fans look forward eagerly to see the future prodigies of world football. The event has seen the baptism of many legendary names over the years.
The first edition of the event was held in China way back in 1985. The tournament is a biennial event and this will be the 17th edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup. The last edition was held in Chile and Nigeria is the reigning champion. It is also the most successful nation in the tournament’s history, with five titles and three runners-up. Latin American powerhouse Brazil is the second most successful team with three titles and two runners-up. Ghana and Mexico have won the tournament twice.
Kochi, Delhi, Navi Mumbai, Guwahati, Margao and Kolkata are the venues for this prestigious event which incidentally is the first ever FIFA event to be hosted by India. The mascot of the event is a clouded leopard named Kheleo. The teams are divided into six different groups and the hosts, India, is in Group A, with United States, Colombia and Ghana being the other teams.
Group B has Paraguay, Mali, New Zealand and Turkey. Group C comprises Iran, Guinea, Germany and Costa Rica. Group D matches will be held at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Kochi. The teams in group D are North Korea, Niger, Brazil and Spain. Group E will have Honduras, New Caledonia and France. Group F has Iraq, Mexico, Chile and England.
The FIFA Under-17 World Cup is expected to open up new vistas to football enthusiasts and upcoming talents in India. Being a minnow in international football, India’s hope of qualifying to the quadrennial FIFA World cup hinges on the young talents who will don the colours of India in this event. Indian football fans are familiar with global football through various European leagues and the FIFA World cup. But the opportunity to see world class talent in live action is indeed a windfall for football aficionados. It can only be hoped that this gala event will spur Indian football to greater heights.