In 2017, the cricket-obsessed nation decided to see some variety in sports and over a million people witnessed one of the world's biggest events being hosted in the Asian subcontinent, the FIFA U-17 World Cup.
With a rise in following of the sport, the Indian football saw people enjoying tournaments like Indian Super League (ISL), I-League and FIFA U-17 World Cup. Who would have imagined that a cricket-obsessed nation would host an international event, as the possibilities of attendance would be at risk, especially witnessing budding youngsters play rather than the idols of the sport gracing the nation with their presence? Alas, everyone was proved wrong who thought that people wouldn't turn up to watch a bunch of kids play. India broke the world record in the attendance in the U-17 World Cup, which was earlier held by China. Over a million people turned up from all the states including New Delhi. Let's get straight to the facts.
*1,347,133 spectators watched the tournament, making it the best attended FIFA U-17 World Cup, breaking the record set by China in 1985 where 1.23 million people witnessed the tourney.
*Never before had a U-17 World Cup seen as many goals as India 2017 – 183 in 52 matches; in fact, at an average of 3.52 per game. The only tournaments with a higher average were Egypt 1997 and Finland 2003, each with 3.66 per match.
It wasn't just because of FIFA hosting the World Cup in India, but simply because millions witnessed a change of course as they saw budding talents square up against robust nations across the globe.
It was the first time, that India was present in the FIFA World Cup, be it any stage of the senior level, U-21 or U-19, it was the youngest of the lot who got to represent the nation in the all-exalted FIFA World Cup. With India hosting its maiden FIFA World Cup, an automatic qualification in the group stages saw the young lot represent a nation of 1.3 billion people. India were drawn against a tenacious lot of USA, Ghana and Columbia. Needless to say, the Indian boys were hammered.
The expectations of billions were just too heavy for the boys with no exposure to go out and face nations that strictly adhere to football. But they did create history though. Despite all the thrashings and goals conceded, an adolescent youngster known as Jeakson Singh scored India's first goal in a FIFA event. New Delhi witnessed the nation's first goal in a World Cup against a sturdy Columbia in the second match of the group stage. The excitement and the emotions sent 60,000 people in the Jawahar Lal Nehru stadium into a hysteria. The entire place erupted on witnessing that one goal that made a huge difference in the game. Well, it was an equaliser. That goal made history. Fairly enough Columbia took the lead within a minute after taking advantage of the emotions running through the youngster's heads.
Coached by Luis de Matos Norton and lead by Amarjit Singh Kiyam, the India U-17 players have made history and have a long road ahead. Hosting and playing in the U-17 World Cup was always part of a bigger plan to make India a more credible footballing nation. There is a sense that the competition has provided a valuable starting point in leading the nation to new levels of the game. The ISL, I-League, AFC Cup, Asian Cup and many more tourneys will create a base for these youngsters to express their talent. In time to come, we're pretty sure that India will compete in the big boy's playground as the base has been structured.