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As the football world departs India after a record breaking FIFA U17 World Cup, make no mistake – this isn’t the last the football world has heard of India. This is only the beginning.

It may be better known as modern day capital of cricket, but if the past three weeks has proven anything it’s that, just like the rest of the world, India has a love for football, and it’s a love that is growing by the day. With the world’s second biggest population behind China, who knows just how big football can be in the country.

A whopping 1,347,133 attended the 52 matches at an average of 25,906 per match – smashing the attendance record for the tournament that had stood since the very first tournament in China in 1985. Not only did it break the record for the FIFA U17 World Cup, it broke the record for any FIFA underage tournament.

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter often referred to India as the sleeping giant. That giant is finally waking from its slumber. In fact, according to FIFA’s current President, Gianni Infantino, it’s fully awake.

In India this week for the final stages of the tournament, he lavished praise on the country, declaring, “India is a football country now.”

Understandably the top brass of Indian football has been overjoyed with the success of the tournament, and already have their eyes on bigger prizes in the future.

“I am extremely delighted, happy and satisfied that our dream project to bring the first-ever World Cup to India, the first-ever FIFA tournament to India, has been an astounding success,” Praful Patel, president of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), told FIFA.com.

“It shows that India has arrived on the world football scene and we are able to host the finest tournaments. If we can host the FIFA U-17 World Cup, I’m sure India is ready for any of the big games in the future.”

If the FIFA U17 World Cup was India dipping it’s toe in the water, it’s now ready to throw its entire body into the ocean.

“The important thing now is we shouldn’t treat this tournament as just one tournament and now we can all go home,” Indian national team star Sunil Chhetri told Football Today.

“It is just a stepping stone, just the first step. Let’s build on this, let’s make sure this this buzz and energy doesn’t die and let’s make sure that the interest keeps improving and everyone works harder.”

The AIFF has already announced their bid for the FIFA U20 World Cup in 2019, and after the success of the last three weeks and seeing the growth and popularity of the game in the country, there is absolutely no doubt FIFA would love to return to keep the momentum going.

The long game, of course, is for India to one day host the FIFA World Cup, and AIFF general secretary Kushal Das exclusively told Football Today that hosting the tournament was their long-term goal, but their more immediate focus is on developing their junior teams and actually qualifying for the FIFA World Cup.

“Our focus at the moment is purely on grassroots initiatives and youth development programs,” he explained. “At the same time we are now focusing on our U16 and U19 national squads in our quest to qualify for future U17 and U20 editions of the FIFA World Cup.

“Beyond that, we intend to host the AFC Asian Cup as we believe we presently have the infrastructure and of course, the target would be to qualify for the World Cup in 2026.

“Of course, we would certainly aspire to host it (the FIFA World Cup), probably in 20-30 years, but our immediate focus is to continue with the advancement we have made in creating a youth development structure and aim to break into the top 50 in the FIFA rankings.”

India is a nation on a mission. The FIFA U17 World Cup has only whetted the appetite for what’s to come.

It may still be a cricket country for now, but the hashtag the AIFF and everyone connected with Indian football were pushing during the tournament is a sign of things to come - #FootballTakesOver.

U-17 World Cup Fast Facts

  • Winners: England (see our Team of the Week)
  • Runers-Up:  Spain
  • Third:  Brazil
  • Fourth:  Mali
  • Golden Ball:  Philip Foden, England
  • Golden Boot:  Rhian Brewster, England
  • Golden Glove:  Gabriel Brazao, Brazil
  • Fair Play:  Brazil

Categories: News | Asia

u-17 world cup, india, #footballtakesover

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