New Delhi: The youngsters were fast asleep when FIFA voted far away in Brazil that India will host the under-17 World Cup in 2017. For the awestruck Delhi schoolboys it was as good as the country hosting the main World Cup itself and they burst into a loud cheer on hearing the news when they assembled for their customary morning football work-out Friday.
This is the "best thing to happen for Indian football", they kept telling each other. It took a while for them to realise how big the decision -- taken at the FIFA executive committee meeting Thursday at Sauipe Fun Hotel, in Salvador de Bahia -- is for India.
"Is it true? It is unbelievable," said 14-year-old Ashish Chaudhary from St. Mary`s School.
"A lot of people will try to play it down saying it`s only the U-17 World Cup... nevertheless, it is the biggest football event we can think of, so I`m very happy," he said.
India won the hosting rights ahead of Ireland, Uzbekistan, Azerbaijan and 2010 FIFA World Cup hosts South Africa.
"We waited and waited for something like this to happen to kick-start football in our country. Till now I thought the new league (Super League by IMG-R) would shake Indian football into action with so many great names being associated with it. Now I think this news will jolt us out of slumber," said Karun Malik from St. Columba`s School.
"I`m sure our infrastructure will improve by leaps and bounds... it has to. FIFA wouldn`t allow this tournament to take place in sub-standard arenas, so things will obviously improve a great deal," he added.
Varun Bapna, Malik`s schoolmate, was more concerned about the fact whether he will be able to see any of the games live.
"I really am hoping that Delhi gets some of the matches. If it takes places in JLN stadium, it`s even better as it`s closer to my house but I don`t care, I will go anywhere to see it as long as it`s in our city," he said.
The tournament in which 24 teams would be taking part will be held at six venues to be selected from eight projected cities -- New Delhi, Margao, Bangalore, Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata, Kochi and Guwahati.
St. Mary`s team coach Nikhil Philip, who broke the happy news to his wards, hoped the parents will now take football more seriously and let their children play football instead of pushing them into cricket.
"One can already see the excitement among the children here. I could see a glint in their eyes when they came to know the news. I just hope that parents now would take football more seriously and think of it as a viable career option and not cricket alone," he said.
"The biggest problem the sport faces in our country is that not many parents are keen on encouraging their children towards football. Maybe now they will be motivated to see their children as good footballers. A successful tournament and, more importantly, a reasonably decent showing by the India U-17 team will go a long way in promoting the game in a big way."
The FIFA U-17 World Cup kicked-off in 1985, the first edition being hosted by China. It began as a competition for players under the age of 16 and the age limit was raised to 17 in 1991.
The last edition of the tournament, hosted by the United Arab Emirates, was won by Nigeria, who defeated Mexico 3-0 in the final.
The next edition of the biennial event will take place in 2015 in Chile.