Endeavouring to send the women's national team to the 2027 FIFA World Cup, the All India Football Federation has charted a detailed plan in this regard, which has been "endorsed and supported" by both the Sports Ministry and Sports Authority of India.
It is worth mentioning that AIFF president Praful Patel had said that the national women's side can qualify for the FIFA World Cup before the men's team does, despite the less attention given to it. For a while now, the federation has been working towards all-round development of women's football in the country.
"We have laid a detailed plan for the (current) U-18 girls in our attempt to qualify for the 2027 World Cup. The plan has been endorsed and supported by the Ministry of Sports and SAI, for which we stay eternally grateful," AIFF general secretary Kushal Das told PTI.
Last December, Patel had said the AIFF is hoping for the women's team to qualify for the 2027 World Cup. Supporting his view, the sports ministry had asked the AIFF to prepare a "concrete and actionable" roadmap to work towards the team's qualification in the 2027 edition of the world's biggest football event for women.
The U-17 women's World Cup will be held in India from October 11 to 30 next year, the FIFA Council said last Thursday. India were scheduled to host the U-17 World Cup last year but it was postponed to 2021 before being cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
India is also scheduled to host the AFC Women's Asian Cup in 2022.
"We want to carry this message to all girls who aspire to play the sport, that the football federation stands by them and wants to see them compete at the highest level," Das said. "We are confident that the legacy that the U-17 World Cup in 2022 leaves behind, will allow and inspire girls in India to play more. That, in itself, will mark a major shift in the paradigm of sporting culture in India, and the society overall."
As the discussion turned to Indian football's talisman Sunil Chhetri, the federation's top official was asked whether he is worried if the men's team would be able to find a successor for the 36-year-old when he decides to retire.
"Sunil is one of the greatest Indian footballers ever, and an inspiration to all generations. There are many talented youngsters in the Indian football set-up, some of whom even Sunil is extremely fond of.
"But talent alone doesn't lead you anywhere. The commitment and the sacrifices of a Sunil Chhetri is the way forward for the Apuias, the Udantas, the Thapas, the Sahals, the Brandons, the Manvir's and all others," Das said.
International football's second highest scorer among active players, Chhetri is currently in Doha for the Indian team's remaining joint 2022 FIFA World Cup and 2023 Asian Cup Qualifiers.
The team, bolstered by the return of Chhetri, plays its first match on June 3 against hosts Qatar. The other two matches are against Bangladesh (June 7) and Afghanistan (June 15).
The Indian team, fourth in Group E with three points, is already out of contention for a World Cup berth but is still in the reckoning for the 2023 Asian Cup in China.