New Delhi: The All India Football Federation feels hosting the U-17 World Cup could act as a stepping stone to the country realising its dream of playing in the FIFA World Cup, saying the boys competing in the mega event two years from now will form the backbone of future Indian teams.
"Absolutely, the way we are preparing, those boys (representing India in U-17 World Cup in 2017) will be the backbone of future Indian teams," AIFF secretary Kushal Das said when asked if that bunch can give the FIFA World Cup a shot in near future.
"We are preparing a competitive Indian team for the U-17 World Cup. We went to Germany, Spain and qualified for the AFC U-16 Championships on merit. We are next going to UAE. The core team is more or less the same though Nicolai (Adam - U-17 coach) is still scouting for a few more players," Das elaborated on plans for the U-17 squad.
FIFA's ceremonial handover of the U-17 World Cup to India took place earlier this month as the last edition of the tournament concluded in Chile.
Das said the aim is to involve India's youngsters through an initiative called 'Mission 11 million', which is basically focussed on "activation of youth" in the event.
Tournament and project director, Javier Ceppi looked at it as the biggest opportunity for Indian football.
"It has the potential to be a game changer for football in not just India but the whole world. The event is not just a 23-day standard event. It's an opportunity to meet more people of India, meet more kids in India."
Ceppi believed the event could be used as a tool to "get football as priority sport" in certain states and make the sport a part of curriculum in schools in India and across the world.
"We only have one opportunity to make an impression," Ceppi said.
Ceppi said that in the recently-held Under-17 World Cup in Chile, scouts from top clubs such as Manchester City, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Bayern Munich, Barcelona were present in venues to look for promising talents.
He said Costa Rica, who stunned Italy in the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, benefitted through such scouting programmes.
Das exuded confidence while speaking about India's preparedness.
"There are three aspects and one of them is delivering a FIFA standards event. A lot of work - stadium development and training venue development - has been done as per FIFA guidelines. AIFF is closely working with the government and the required funding will be taken care of."
"For the last 2-3 years the focus of AIFF has been grassroots and youth, this tournament will set up a milestone in them going forward."
Ceppi said it has been made contractually obligatory for states hosting World Cup matches to focus on youth and grassroot development programmes and the pitches can be used by the community.
Asked how Indian marketers can best leverage this opportunity to reach out to such a large audience, Ceppi said the fact that India is hosting its biggest-ever event in terms of reach, should attract the country's corporates.
The event will be watched in India by 3.8 million spectators besides a viewership of 7-8 million.
"It is the first truly global event to be hosted by India with 209 territories vying for place in the event and it will be shown in 204 countries. The companies that are involved with the tournament can say that we were there when football revolution happened in India for the first time," Ceppi said.