On a day, when FIFA president Gianni Infantino touched down in Kolkata and said, “India is now a football country”, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) chief Praful Patel sounded hopeful about the country hosting the 2019 U-20 World Cup.
For the first time at the U-17 level, FIFA will have a Council outside Zurich. Kolkata will host it on Friday. And for the first time, the Indian federation has been allowed representation at a FIFA Executive Council meeting. Patel will try to make the most of this opportunity to land the U-20 showpiece on the heels of the successful organisation of the U-17 World Cup.
“I will use all the goodwill in my and India’s command to good use when I address the FIFA council, where I have been invited as the host,” Patel told reporters at the FIFA U-17 World Cup wrap-up press conference here on Thursday. He added that Infantino has invited him to the meeting. The FIFA president, by virtue of his office, is a state guest here. He is accompanied by a 35-member delegation.
India has already placed a formal bid to host the 2019 U-20 World Cup. November 1 is the deadline for FIFA member associations to submit the definitive bids, while the formal announcement would be made either at the back end of this year or early next year.
The buzz inside world football’s governing body is that India is ready to host higher-level tournaments. Jaime Yarza, head of FIFA Tournaments, said India is “almost” ready to host a senior World Cup let alone development tournaments.
“These are almost (senior) World Cup level stadiums, not only U-20 World Cup level stadiums. In every aspect, they can host major events. If the development goes on like this and they do good work, I think infrastructure-wise they have the ability to host any major event. There is one picture the LOC (Local organising committee) has not sold yet, which is ‘Proud to be Indian’. They should be proud,” Yarza commented.
Patel said that one of the biggest legacies of this U-17 World Cup would be more investment into Indian football from the corporate sector. He reiterated that the AIFF would set up a National Centre of Excellence in the near future.
Meanwhile, if the third-place playoff between Brazil and Mali and the final between England and Spain witness a full house at the Salt Lake stadium on Saturday, India will surpass both the 1985 U-17 World Cup in China and the 2011 U-20 World Cup in Colombia in terms of crowd attendance. China had recorded a total attendance of a little over 1.2 million for the tournament, while Colombia hosted over 1.3 million spectators. Full houses on Saturday will see India set a new record. Official figures, however, haven’t been revealed yet.