The FIFA U17 World Cup is breaking new ground by taking place in India. However, the excitement is just the same at a tournament where future stars are born
The official FIFA U17 World Cup only started its journey back in 2007, ten years ago. However, the tournament concept began back in 1985 as an U16 World Championship. The first tournament was held in China and Nigeria were crowned the first champions, beating West Germany in the final. Brazil took third.
Since then, the tournament has been held every two years and from 1991, the age bar was raised a year to U17s. Sixteen years later, the competition held in South Korea became known as FIFA U17 World Cup. From 1985 to 2005, only 16 teams took part before the number of teams increased to 24.
Five teams from Europe, four each from South America, North, Central America & the Caribbean, Africa and Asia, two more from Oceania, and the host country makes the participating twenty four.
In the FIFA U17 event hosted by India, the following countries are represented.
Europe: Spain, Germany, England, France, Turkey
South America: Brazil, Colombia, Chile, Paraguay
North, Central America & Caribbean: USA, Mexico, Honduras, Costa Rica
Africa: Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Niger
Asia: Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Japan and India (hosts)
Oceania: New Zealand, New Caledonia
24 teams are divided into six groups where every team will be playing three group matches. The leaders and runners-up automatically qualify for the first knockout round. Four best-placed third teams will also go through to the second round, involving 16 teams. The quarterfinals, semifinals, and the final follows.
Six Indian cities are hosting the tournament – New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata, Kochi, Goa and Guwahati.
India, as host, are in Group A and based in the capital New Delhi, where they will be playing all three matches. Brazil and Spain are based in Kochi while England and Mexico are in Kolkata.
The semifinals will be held in Mumbai and Guwahati while the final and the match to decide the third-placed team will take place in Kolkata on October 28.
Football is popular across India, especially in the Eastern and North-Eastern region of the country. Kolkata is considered to be the Mecca of football in India. During the senior FIFA World Cups, parts of Kolkata shift their base to Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy!
Although Kolkatans wanted Brazil to have their base in the city for the forthcoming U17 World Cup, the draw in Mumbai frustrated the city’s football lovers. Brazil was drawn to play two of their group league matches in Kochi.
However the football lovers of the city have made the tournament a huge hit already. All the tickets for the 10 matches to be played there are sold. Supporters in long queues waited patiently outside the centers to collect their tickets for the tournament even when it was raining. They will get to see England, Mexico, Chile and Iraq in action at the Salt Lake Stadium, easily the best venue of this World Cup.
Kochi is lucky to have both Brazil and Spain and the ticket sales reflect the fact that Kochi is never far away as far as their passion for football is concerned. Guwahati is in the North-East and their love for football will be supported by the figures of revenue from ticket-bookings.
The capital was running slowly, but when it was confirmed that the hosts will be playing all the matches in New Delhi, fans did not let their team down. Surprisingly it was not the same case with Goa where football is most popular after Kolkata. However, people have not taken the opportunity to be a part of history since India are hosting a FIFA tournament for the first time in its history.
Nigeria have won the event five times, the highest by any country. Not only that, they were on a hat-trick after winning the editions in 2013 and 2015. But they could not qualify for this year’s edition, losing a great opportunity to make it three-in-a-row.
Brazil are the perennial favourites in every football tournament, be it the senior or the age group World Cups. The South Americans have won it three times, the second highest after Nigeria. Ghana and Mexico have won it twice while the Soviet Union, Saudi Arabia, Switzerland and France have won it once each.
Among the previous winners, Brazil, Ghana, Mexico and France are competing in this tournament and feature in the favourites list. Spain, being the U17 Euro champions, definitely belong to the list of probable winners. In the previous champions list, Germany does not feature surprisingly. But in a FIFA tournament, how can one ignore them? England and the USA, too, are among potential favourites.
The U17 World Cup is famous for the surprises they produce. No country has ever won the Cup as hosts. India is too inexperienced a nation in football, which rules out their chances, though.
Players to Watch
Lincoln Correa dos Santos (Brazil) forward
Abel Ruiz (Spain) forward
Jann Fiete Arp (Germany) striker
Eric Aiyah (Ghana) striker
Diego Lainez (Mexico) striker
Amine Gouiri (France) forward
Jadon Sancho (England) winger
Timothy Weah (USA) forward
Komal Thatal (India) midfielder