It's a goal for India!

India beats South Africa, Ireland and Uzbekistan to host the U-17 World Cup in 2017

It's a goal for India!
YOUNG TURK: Nigeria’s Iheanacho exults after his team beat Mexico in the finals of the FIFA U-17 World Cup football at Abu Dhabi in November last year
In what should come as a huge boost for the sport in the country, India has been handed the hosting rights for the 2017 Under-17 Football World Cup. As part of its drive to take the game into newer areas — and markets — Fifa has assigned the event to a country that has never managed to find a place in the senior World Cup finals. And on current form, look like being about a million miles from doing so.

The Indian bid beat out stiff competition from 2010 World Cup hosts South Africa, Ireland and Uzbekistan. There was a small hiccup, though. The initial bid by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) was deficient in some key areas including security and tax guarantees among a host of other requirements stipulated by Fifa, the body that runs the sport worldwide. But this was ironed out once the Union government stepped in to fulfill those guarantees.

At a dazzling function reportedly costing close to $11 million held in the exclusive Sauipe Fun Hotel, Salvador de Bahia, a Brazilian beach resort, Fifa also handed out the Under-20 World Cup in 2017 to South Korea, the women’s Under-17 World Cup in 2016 to Jordan and the Under-20 women’s World Cup to South Africa.

Said Fifa president Sepp Blatter on the night: “This is of enormous importance for a land of 1.2 billion people in sporting political and geo-political terms.”

At home, meanwhile, the jubilant AIFF crowed in its official statement: “It’s official — India will host the 2017 U-17 World Cup!” Remember, India have never appeared in the World Cup finals even though there are pockets where the sport is deeply rooted, and the country languishes at 148th in the official world rankings.

Eight cities — Goa, Pune, Mumbai, Bangalore, Cochin, Kolkata, Delhi and Guwahati —are in the race for a shortlist of six venues that will play host to the 24 participating teams. As hosts, India get an automatic berth, a massive step up for the Boys in Blue.

Said AIFF president Praful Patel, who played a key role in making sure the Indian government came up with the required guarantees, “Fifa has been extremely supportive of the All India Football Federation’s ambitions and taking Indian football to the world level. Both Fifa president Joseph S Blatter and secretary general Jerome Valcke have always been huge supporters of Indian football.

“However, the real challenge begins now. Together with all stakeholders we need to host it in the best possible manner and set an example for all to follow. At the same time, we understand the need to be competitive in the tournament,” he said.

For a country like India, the priority stays to make a mark on the world stage and the U-17 World Cup hosting rights could not have come at a better time. The very fact that our boys will be getting a chance to rub shoulders with the best of the world is amazing. The overall infrastructure of the country will also be improved to be at par with international standards which will benefit Indian football immensely, he added.

Infrastructure promises to be the real bugbear for the tournament. At the moment, the country has barely four stadia of any standard, and with this being a Fifa event, standards are bound to be high, as 2014 World Cup finals hosts Brazil are discovering even at this late stage.

Then there is the small matter of the sort of embarrassment the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games caused with failed infrastructure deadlines and massive cost over-runs. The AIFF chief well knows that he cannot afford the sort of tamasha CWG 2010 was reduced to before India’s athletes came to the rescue with a truly dazzling performance.

For the record, the Fifa U-17 World Cup was first played in 1985 and hosted by China. It began as a competition for players under 16 with the age limit raised to 17 from 1991 onwards. At the most recent edition, hosted earlier this year in the United Arab Emirates, the Golden Eaglets, Nigeria’s junior team, walked away as the champions, beating Mexico 3-0 in the final.

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