Come October 6, India Under-17 team will rub shoulders with their contemporaries on the word stage after months of rigorous training and exposure trips abroad in Mexico, Chile, and Colombia under Portuguese coach Norton de Matos. It is the first time that India is hosting a FIFA (Federation Internationale de Football Association) biennial event since first held in China in 1985. Guwahati is one of the six venues with New Delhi, Navi Mumbai, Goa, Kochi, and Kolkata ready for the big event, where 24 teams of 6 groups from six confederations (AFC 4 Teams, CAF 4 Teams, CONCACAF 4 Teams, CONMEBOL 4 Teams, OFC 2 Teams, UEFA 5 Teams and Host country) participated. Iran, Iraq, Japan and Korea are included from Asian Federation Confederation (AFC). India is placed under Group A with United States, Colombia and Ghana. The final will be played on 28 Oct at Kolkata while Guwahati has been chosen nine matches including six group matches, three round 16, one quarter final and a semi final.
Chile hosted the last U-17 world Cup in 2015 where Nigeria was defending champion. India returns to the finals of a FIFA competition after 57 years. It participated in four consecutive editions of the Olympic Football Tournament between 1948 and 1960. The best performance was lost to Yugoslavia in the Semi Final at 1956 Melbourne Olympic. India named 21 members squad for FIFA U-17. Interestingly for India; Manipur is Manipur this time that eight represent from Manipur for the world event. Mizoram and Sikkim also have a representative each. Last year 80 players from North East have been rejected for selection by former coach Nicolai Adam due short criteria. Nevertheless this selection gives us a reason to smile. NE players have proved that their physique is not a hindrance, they are most skilful footballer. It is an unprecedented achievement where success has not always followed the passion for football although most of them come from a humble background.
This year has been an incredible for North East football. A little known Aizawl FC scripted history by becoming the first NE club to win I-Leage title. Also Shillong Lajong FC placed fifth in I-League standing. 49 NE players amongst 156 players selected for cash-rich Indian Super League 2017-18 edition. The Manipuri Duo Seityasen Singh and Reagan Singh of North East United FC are making waves in Indian football, after impressing in the ISL, now signed for Delhi Dynamos. 10 years old Chandan Boro is a playing captain at Bundesliga club TSG Hoffenheim, Bittburg, Germany. The forgotten Naga doctor-footballer Talimeren Ao led the Indian football team in the 1948 London Olympic quarterfinal. Mizoram govt took initiative by sending 35 U-16 children to Germany for six years training through a tie up with Tata Trusts. North East has won a number of times in Santosh Trophy and Subroto Cup tournaments in the past.
The love for the game of football is present in abundance in this land. The move over Bengal and Goa is over. Manipur, Meghalaya, Sikkim and Mizoram are becoming India’s new football powerhouse. AIFF should realise that the heart and soul of Indian football is in the North East. With no big sponsors for NE players, the government has to create infrastructure as well as national centre for excellence with elite facilities for this hilly region. For the mind of many other Indian, NE is just a about Tribal Rock n roll and wild scenic beauty but there is emerging football now. We have to raise the aspiration levels of our kids to aim for Man United or Bayern Munich. FIFA would like to see India a footballing nation of the future and asks the government to spend on game’s development instead of an opening ceremony. At the same time lowly ranked 85 Qatar bought its way to hosting 2022 World cup. India at 107 ranking failed to reach even 54 participating teams to qualify the quadrennial event 2018 at Russia.
In India, cricket is the most watched sport but the rise of other sports like Badminton, Boxing and Athletics have delighted the countrymen that there is much more beyond Cricket. The stupendous success of shuttlers from PV Sindhu to Saina Nehwal on the global stage has brought world attention. Artistic gymnast Dipa Karmakar made history at the Rio Olympic. Olympic bronze medallist Vijender Singh turned professional with stupendous success. The journey of Mary Kom is remarkable. PT Usha was one of the most iconic athletes of track and field. They have won from individual championships to world championships. But those success stories have not just come easily. The inspiring story of India’s rise in badminton world can be credited to Pulella Gopichand who has changed the face of the sport in our country. For him playing the national anthem at the podium is a big thing. There cannot be a bigger motivation than that.
A number of talented players will be in action including Mexico’s Jairo Torres and USA’s Josh Sergeant. All the European teams are very strong together with Spain, England while Mexico, USA and the South Americans are championship contender. Also African teams are unstoppable. Brazilian star Vinicius Junior is already picked up by Real Madrid. So far seven of the 16 tournaments have been won by two indomitable Africans from Nigeria (5) and Ghana followed by Brazil winning three times. Those teams are very strong, no doubt, by World Cup of equality. Striker Aniket Jadhav and Manipuri Captin Amarjit Singh Kiyam have more than a billion plus people’s expectations. There is great story around when Ninthoinganba Meitei kept a promise to his late father by being selected. The Under-17 World Cup is not a marquee event, but that will not dampen the enthusiasm. It is a truly historic occasion for India. This world cup will be used as a platform for bigger things in the future. India has formally bid for the 2019 FIFA Under-20 World Cup. The rise of FIFA U-17 will mark a milestone for North East football.