Indian football has been in a state of flux over the past two years. Fortunes of the national team have been on the rise, with India recently breaking into the top-100 of the FIFA rankings. However, the fact remains that the senior team is yet to get a chance to have a go at some of the real bigwigs of football such as England, Argentina, Brazil et al. The Indian U-17 team, though, will be presented with that opportunity when they play in the FIFA U-17 World Cup that starts on October 5, 2017.
Ticket sales for the FIFA U-17 World Cup was officially launched on Monday at New Delhi’s Jawaharlal Nehru stadium. Despite the uncertainty surrounding the status of the national league, India’s power to attract the biggest names in world football has seen a considerable rise over the years. A testimony to this was the presence of Spanish and Barcelona great Carles Puyol at the launch.
Puyol officially initiated the release by handing over the first ticket to Gauri Bhaduri, the descendant of Shibdas Bhaduri who captained a barefooted Mohun Bagan team to victory over British team East Yorkshire Regiment in 1911.
Puyol was the chief guest along with Sports Minister Vijay Goel in the event. With the World Cup tournament director Javier Ceppi serving as the translator, Puyol expressed his happiness for being present in the country for an event as important as this. “Indians will get the chance to see World Cup matches live and that experience is completely different from watching it on television,” said the 2010 World Cup winner, “You can feel the energy in the stands.”
The former Barcelona captain also stressed the importance of the U-17 world cup for the future of the sport in the country. “At the FIFA U-17 World Cup, you can see the stars of the future,” said Puyol, “Indians should make the most of this opportunity and come in numbers to watch international teams play at home.”
Although the launch happened on Monday, the tickets go live to the general public only on Tuesday. Goel said that the tickets may be available for prices as less as Rs. 50. Puyol also acted as the guest referee for a match played between two teams of children led by Goel and U-17 World Cup vice-president Babul Supriyo. Puyol did allow himself a few touches of the ball, ensuring that it ends up at the feet of the younger players. Supriyo, who had initially admitted to Puyol that he was a Real Madrid fan, bore the brunt of the Puyol’s defensive technique when he was tackled by the former Barcelona captain just as he seemed to be about to score.
The frenzy that surrounded Puyol despite the event being under-promoted and held on a Monday, might just be an indicator of the popularity of the sport in the country.