AIFF President Praful Patel and coach of the Indian U17 football team, Luis Norton de Matos addressed the national media today, with just 10 days to go for the Under 17 World Cup – the first FIFA event that India has ever hosted or played in.
Patel and Matos held a free-ranging conversation on topics ranging from India’s preparations for the tournament, to how far the team can progress, and how the players are coping with all the pressure that comes with playing a world cup. Excerpts:
On India’s readiness to host the U17 World Cup
Praful Patel: “We as a nation are 100% ready to host this prestigious event. Of the 6 venues, 5 have been officially handed over to FIFA, and the 6th one, DY Patil Stadium in Navi Mumbai will be handed over tomorrow. We convey our thanks to each and every agency and the state governments who owned these stadiums. I do express satisfaction and appreciate the efforts of all the stakeholders.
India is really ready for the big games. We have a 100% readiness on the infrastructure, and the Indian national team is charged and geared to take on this great feat of participating in the first ever FIFA tournament in India.”
On bidding to host the FIFA U20 World Cup, and the future of the U17 team after the World Cup ends
Praful Patel: “India has also formally put in its bid to host the U20 World Cup in 2019. We do expect and hope that with the U17 World Cup happening in the country and with FIFA officials coming, we can convince them of our readiness to host the tournament.
Post the U17 World Cup, we have already decided to keep the team as one unit and maybe bring in players from other age groups. We will try to continue to keep the team and and ask coach Mr. de Matos to continue with us, so we can develop this young crop into the stars of tomorrow. You can see the benefits of doing so, as quite a few players from our project, the ‘Indian Arrows’ which played in the I-League for three seasons have gone on to become the frontline players for the senior national team. We would like to nurture the U17 players as our own children so they remain motivated to play football.”
On the favourites to win the tournament, and how the Indian team might fare
Luis Norton de Matos: “Of course, there are a few teams which will be obvious favourites. Traditionally, teams from Africa have done really well in the tournament. Then of course, you have Brazil, who are big contenders. But let me tell you, this Indian team is also very, very strong. Perhaps, it is the strongest Indian team that we have ever had in this age-group. So you never know, it’s football.
I try to keep the pressure as much as I can off the boys. Of course, as we are approaching the tournament, they are understanding the pressure as more and more people talk about it. They’ll be back in Delhi soon. I keep telling them that we are not obliged to win, but we are obliged to give in our best effort on the pitch and play to win”
Praful Patel: “Come on, let’s be optimistic. There are many contenders for the tournament, and anyone can win the U17 World Cup. That includes India.”
On setting up a national centre for excellence
Praful Patel: “We haven’t finalized the location yet, but we are setting up a national training centre of excellence which will the home of the senior national men’s team, women’s national team, and all the age group football teams of the AIFF. A national team should have a permanent centre of excellence. From state of the art training pitches, to swimming pools and mental conditioning coaches, it will have it all. We are still in talks, and will probably cost upwards of 100 crores. We might reach out to FIFA for help, and even rope in private sponsors. We will be announcing the location once the U17 World Cup is over, and hope to commence the work as soon as early 2018.”