India is largely a cricket playing nation; however, when the soccer eyeballs of the world are on India, the occasion is definitely worth celebrating. India is gearing up to host its first FIFA World Cup in October this year.
The official slogan for the first Fédération Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) competition to be held in India is ‘Football Takes Over’ for the FIFA U-17 World Cup and it aptly embodies the growing excitement in the host country. Although India secured a spot in this major FIFA competition as the tournament hosts, the country’s huge fan base makes it a melting pot of emotions and passion connected to this adrenaline-pumping game.
The draw for the final fixture took place on July 7, in Mumbai. The 17th edition of the FIFA U-17 World Cup, which will take place between October 6-28, will be held in six cities: New Delhi, Goa, Kochi, Guwahati, Kolkata and Navi Mumbai.
Following a week-long inspection tour of the six venues chosen for the World Cup, FIFA and the Local Organising Committee (LOC) released the official match schedule and unveiled the tournament slogan in April this year. The tournament will start in New Delhi and Navi Mumbai with the first of the double headers being held on October 6. The quarter-finals will be held in Goa, Guwahati, Kochi and Kolkata, while Guwahati and Navi Mumbai will host the semi-finals. The final match will be held in Kolkata’s Vivekananda Yuva Bharati Krirangan (VYBK) in Salt Lake.
Speaking at the announcement of the match schedule, head of FIFA tournaments, Jaime Yarza said, “The FIFA U-17 World Cup is an exciting milestone for the growth of football in India and it has now reached a very important stage. The match schedule was created following a thorough analysis of players’ health, competition format, team movements, weather, local festivities, geography and other factors. Each venue will host at least eight matches, and we took existing infrastructure into account, as well as local enthusiasm when allotting the matches.”
The Portuguese coach
With India being the host country, it hopes to revitalise its position as a football playing nation. After the controversial departure of Nicolai Adam as the head coach of the junior football team earlier this year, over accusations of physically abusing the players, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) considered various names for this responsible position. In March, Luis Norton de Matos, one of the two names that were considered, was confirmed as the man who will be orchestrating India’s moves on the field.
The 63-year-old coach thanked the AIFF for making him a part of the project. Matos, like many other Portuguese people, has an Indian connect, especially, with Goa. The Portuguese colony until 1961 was mostly constricted to the western state of Goa and there are stories that connect a number of Portuguese people to this part of India. “I do have an Indian connection as my great grandfather was born in Goa,” Matos said commenting on his appointment. As India gears up for the global event, the new coach primarily stressed on a positive mindset that will set the stage for victory in the first match, which he thinks will make things easier for the team. “I will retain the positives of the last two years as we move forward,” he asserted.
On Matos’ appointment, the AIFF president Praful M Patel said, “It’s nice to have Matos on board. His experience of handling youth teams will come in handy for the U-17 boys as we wish to leave no stone unturned to field a competitive team in the U-17 World Cup. I expect him to guide our boys to put up a strong performance in the World Cup.”
India vs. the United States of America (US) – the opener
The Official Draw that took place on July 7 in Mumbai revealed that hosts India will take on US in their opening match of the competition in New Delhi. Group A also includes Colombia and Ghana, who will also clash as part of the first day’s action.
“I think the first game (against US) is the most important. I’m going to prepare very well, as will the players, and if we win, we have a good chance to progress. We will fight for that,” said coach Matos.
Apart from AIFF president Patel, Sunil Gulati, FIFA council member, Vijay Goel, Indian minister of youth affairs and sports along with FIFA legends Esteban Cambiasso and Nwankwo Kanu, as well as Indian national team skipper Sunil Chhetri and Indian badminton star Pusarla Venkata Sindhu, were present during the draw in Mumbai.
One of the highlights of the ceremony was the performance of the tournament’s Official Song. Indian film industry’s music director Pritam and singer Babul Supriyo revealed ‘Kar Ke Dikhla De Goal’ (try and score a goal) for the first time, much to the delight of the assembled audience.
Indian coach accepts the challenge
The coach of the Indian team, Matos said, “I like this challenge, even though there are stronger favourites. The US only missed one U-17 World Cup, Colombia is one of the strongest teams in South America, and Ghana is one of the best teams in Africa. The players are not obliged to win, but are obliged to play to win. At the end of each game, I want the young people to feel that they can play against big teams as equals. I feel it is possible with work. I feel I can bring something to Indian football.”
The AIFF president Patel along with the AIFF’s general secretary Kushal Das met the Indian U-17 World Cup squad on the sidelines of a training session at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium in New Delhi on July 24 this year. Adding a spirited conversation to boost the young boys, Patel said, “You boys are the team for the future and the whole nation will be supporting you. The whole country is watching you boys, this is the time to put in the hard work and make yourself and the nation proud,’’ he stated. “Play on the pitch as lions. Play without being tensed and without any pressure,” he added.
Speaking about the support in the stands for the Indian team, the coach reiterated, “It is important for us that the Indian people come to the stadium. We are going to play with 11 players on the pitch, plus one from the stands. I was a football player, and I know you can play 10 to 20 pc better, if you have this kind of support. What I want is that people are proud at the end of the game.”