What might have happened if, prior to the 1950 FIFA World Cup Brazil™, the Indian Football Association had gone back on its decision to withdraw from the tournament? They would likely have revelled in their first-ever appearance on one of sport’s greatest stages, potentially won a match or two, and created a whole generation of football lovers back home.
However, their decision stemmed from a request to play in bare feet, and when that was refused, the team chose not to participate. Subsequently, as the Indians have continually struggled to qualify over the years, football’s profile has remained disappointingly low in a country that is nevertheless obsessed with sport.
But that situation is gradually changing, and in 2017, football will be the only sport in town for several weeks, as India plays host to the FIFA U-17 World Cup. No fewer than 23 teams will travel to the Asian nation, where they will attempt (while wearing shoes!) to get their hands on the illustrious trophy.
FIFA.com has all you need to know about the tournament, which kicks off this weekend.
Dates: 6 to 28 October
Participants: 24 teams, representing FIFA’s six confederations, have been divided into six groups of four
Format: The top two sides in each group and the four third-placed teams with the best records will advance to the Round of 16.
History: This is the 17th edition of the competition; the first one was held in China in 1985 and the most recent took place in Chile in 2015.
Need to know
* Nigeria, who have emerged victorious from the event on five occasions, including the last two, were knocked out in the African qualifiers. Switzerland, who won in 2009 but missed out in 2011, were the last reigning champions to suffer the same fate. Africa will instead be represented by Mali, who reached the final last time around, as well as Ghana, Guinea and Niger.
* Four former champions are in the hunt for the trophy in India, namely Brazil (1997, 1999 and 2003), Ghana (1991 and 1995), Mexico (2005 and 2011) and France (2001). Aside from Nigeria, Russia (1987), Saudi Arabia (1989) and Switzerland (2009) are the three other ex-winners who will be absent in 2017.
* For the first time, the Oceania Football Confederation will send two representatives to the U-17 World Cup. New Zealand have made several previous appearances, but New Caledonia will be making their FIFA tournament debut.
* Much attention will be paid to the performances of England, given that their youth teams are enjoying something of a purple patch. Over the summer, the Three Lions secured the FIFA U-20 World Cup title, won the UEFA European U-19 Championship, and reached the semi-finals of the UEFA EURO U-21s. In addition, the players set to compete in India were beaten finalists at the UEFA European U-17 Championship in May.
Three reasons to follow the tournament
* It is a competition in which the future stars of Planet Football often take their first steps to greatness. Neymar, Andres Iniesta, Ronaldinho, Toni Kroos, Nwankwo Kanu and Gianluigi Buffon all appeared at the U-17 World Cup before going on to shine in their countries’ senior teams.
* It is a chance to discover India, one of the most fascinating countries in the world. Learn more about the host nation, as well as the six cities that will stage the matches – Goa, Guwahati, Kochi, Kolkata, Navi Mumbai and New Delhi – in our ‘Destination‘ section. If you are lucky enough to be in India during the event, book your tickets now!
* For the first time in footballing history, women will be part of the refereeing teams at a FIFA men’s tournament.