By Samindra Kunti in Kolkata
October 30 – At the close of the U-17 World Cup in India, All India Football Federation president Praful Patel pitched the country’s bid to stage the U-20 World Cup to the FIFA Council. FIFA president Gianni Infantino dubbed the tournament “a resounding success” but didn’t offer clues about the next U-20 World Cup host. The Bureau of the Council will take a decision early next year.
Infantino praised India for staging a successful event, the first major football tournament to be staged on Indian soil. “They have put a little less spice in the food,” opened Infantino. “The U-17 World Cup has been a resounding success with some records that have already been broken. India is not only a country but a continent in itself. But I have now found out that India is also not only a football country but is a football continent.”
Patel got in on the act and said Infantino’s dietary requirements would be seen to in the future, courting the FIFA president as India pushes on with their bid to land a next major tournament. It’s a lofty target for India and speaks to the aspirations that have been reiterated time and again within Indian football circles.
Those aspirations have however not been backed up by credible and tangible reform and developmental processes in the game. Indian football remains divided by the schism between the Indian Super League and the I-League. The U-17 team exited its own tournament in the group stages, registering three defeats.
Infantino highlighted that the success of this World Cup could be a factor in the governing body’s decision to award the next U-20 World Cup to India, but remained relatively lukewarm when asked about the possibility. “I don’t know,” said Infantino. “Certainly, that is an element we will consider but we can take a decision only early next year.”
India first expressed their interest in hosting the 2019 U-20 World Cup in July. The deadline for the bidding procedure is November 1. Peru and Poland are the other countries who have confirmed bids.
“This is the beginning of the renaissance of Indian football,” said Patel. “This entire exercise must continue. We have to have another major tournament to keep this momentum. This has been a great learning experience for us. We have now delivered on giving good infrastructure, which over the years was one of the major concerns.”
South Korea hosted the last U-20 World Cup in June, which England won beating Venezuela 1-0 in the final. In general, FIFA is reluctant to award the same tournament to the same continent consecutively.
“This year, there were two World Cups this year,” said Infantino. “The U-20 World Cup in South Korea was a successful one and then this U-17 World Cup in India has also been a success. We have received requests from several countries expressing desire to host the 2019 U-20 World Cup. Now the FIFA administration will analyse this and present it (a report) to the FIFA Council early next year (for a decision).”
Back-to-back youth World Cups may be a stretch for India and Infantino announced that FIFA may alter the structure of future youth World Cups from 2019 onwards, merging the existing World Cups at U-17 level and U-20.
“After that we are planning to merge the U-17 and U-20 World Cups into a bigger one, the format will be changed to 48 teams competing and held annually,” said the FIFA president. “So, a big country like India can think of hosting a huge event like this alone or co-host with some other smaller countries.”
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