India smash records with U-17 World Cup and ‘open doors’ for U-20s

India fans

By Samindra Kunti in New Delhi

October 16 –  The Local Organising Committee of the U-17 World Cup has hailed the tournament as “a tipping point” for Indian football after the group stages, with the “door open” for India to host the U-20 World Cup in the future. 

The hosts may have crashed out of their own World Cup in the first round finishing bottom of Group A following disappointing defeats against the United States, Colombia and Ghana, but that hasn’t taken the buoyant lay-out of the group stages away, according to tournament organisers.

“This has been a tipping point for Indian football and purely for the perception of Indian football and hosting this tournament, something has definitely changed,” said project director Joy Bhattacharjya at a press conference on Sunday.

“We have to remember this is the first FIFA World Cup hosted in India, but there has been improvement on each match day regarding every single aspect of operations,” said tournament director Javier Ceppi. “There have been historic crowds, a potential record for a youth tournament. We have crossed the 800,000 spectator mark, already almost double what Chile 2015 had for that complete tournament. The average per match is almost 23,000, and the Indian matches had 49,000 average spectators, which is huge.”

During the first days of competition the organisers struggled with ticketing, with plenty of empty seats in the stands leaving fans frustrated. In the Indian capital the government routed 26,750 tickets to schools and NGOs for India’s curtain raiser against the United States. Narendra Modi’s government snapped up a further 22,250 tickets for India’s other two group matches inflating the actual number of spectators in Group A.

Basic provisions such as food and water also went missing in New Delhi and Kochi on the first match day, but organisers remedied those shortcomings later.

With Ceppi and Bhattacharjya delivering a good news show, the former also played up India’s chances of hosting another major football tournament in the future. The All India Football Federation (AIFF) submitted a bid to stage the U-20 World Cup in 2019 earlier this month.

“The nation, if it were to bid for the U-20 World Cup or other World Cups; I feel there are other facilities that are coming up in the country that they would be in a good position to be frontrunners,” said Ceppi.

“This was a make or break. If you’re not able to deliver then the doors would have closed definitely,” continued Ceppi. “Now the doors remain open. How it’s done in the future, we need to see.”

With South Korea having staged the last edition of the U-20 World Cup in the Spring, India may find it hard to persuade FIFA to award the same tournament to Asia again. The country’s climate isn’t conducive either to playing football in the months of June and July.

At the end of October the AIFF president Praful Patel will pitch India’s bid for the 2019 U-20 World Cup to the FIFA Council in Kolkata, where the final of the U-17 World Cup will be played. As host of the tournament, Patel has been invited to the FIFA Council on an exceptional basis.

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