India are all set to host its first ever Federation Internationale de Football Association (FIFA) tournament in the form of the U17 World Cup in October 2017. As such, there is a lot of intrigue and expectation surrounding the youth tournament.
India's U17 team, which has qualified for the tournament as hosts, have been jetting off to European countries for exposure tours as they prepare to lock horns with some of the best young talents in the world.
The fans in the country are eager to see some of the future stars of football in action at a tournament which has propelled many global names to limelight. So what is the concept behind the U17 World Cup? How often is it held? The questions are galore and we will try to answer some of them here.
Before 'Football Takes Over' (the official catchphrase of the tournament), let's take an introductory look at what the U17 World Cup is all about:
WHAT IS THE FIFA U17 WORLD CUP?
The first edition of the U17 World Cup was held in 1985 in China but back then it was called the U16 World Championship. However, FIFA decided to raise the age bar to 17 in 1991 and it has been called the FIFA U17 World Cup ever since.
The tournament was inspired by the Lion City Cup in Singapore - an U-16 football tournament organised by Football Association of Singapore. In fact, it was the world's first ever under-16 football tournament. FIFA's then General Secretary Joe Blatter recommended the creation of the U17 World Cup after a visit to Singapore in 1982.
The tournament is played every two years and this year's edition in India will be its 17th chapter. It will be held across six cities (New Delhi, Navi Mumbai, Goa, Kochi, Kolkata and Guwahati) in India from 6th to 28th October 2017.
Now, let's come to the structure of the FIFA U17 World Cup. The tournament featured youth teams from 16 countries from 1985 to 2005 but from the next edition onwards, the number of teams was raised to 24.
So, 24 teams are divided into six groups of the four. The teams play each other once in the group stage and the top two from each group automatically advance to the Round of 16 stage. Four best third-placed teams also qualify for the pre-quarterfinals from which the tournament embraces a familiar knockout format.
All the other basic rules of football applies to the games in the U17 World Cup as well. However, there will be no extra-time in case a winner is not determined inside 90 minutes in the knockout games. In such a case, a penalty shootout follows the end of normal time.
WHO ALL HAVE QUALIFIED?
The host nation qualifies automatically for the U17 World Cup while the rest of the teams are determined according to continental youth tournaments organised by the respective continental governing bodies like the AFC (Asia), CAF (Africa), CONCACAF (North, Central America & Caribbean), CONMEBOL (South American), UEFA (Europe) and OFC (Oceania).
Here are the 24 teams which have qualified for this year's edition in India:
CAF: Guinea, Ghana, Mali, Niger
OFC: New Zealand, New Caledonia
WHO ARE THE DEFENDING CHAMPIONS?
As the fever surrounding the U17 World Cup rises, so are the queries surrounding the competition. So, who are the current champions of the tournament? Who has won the most number of titles? Where was the tournament held last time out? Fret not, we've got you covered.
Nigeria are the defending champions , having beaten Mali 2-0 in the final of the 2015 edition which was held in Chile. But Nigeria failed to qualify for the 2017 event and will not be able to defend their trophy.
Incidentally, the Super Eagles are the most successful team in the tournament, having won the FIFA U17 World Cup a record five times.
More interestingly, Nigeria won the first edition in 1985 as well by defeating West Germany 2-0. In fact, the Nigerians won the 2013 edition in the UAE as well. Combining it with Ghana's two titles, Africa can boast seven U17 World Cup titles.
As far as Asian countries go, only Saudi Arabia (1989) have won the trophy while France (2001), Switzerland (2009) and Soviet Union (1987) are the three European teams to have triumphed. Brazil are the only South American team to win the tournament (1997, 1999 and 2003) and Mexico (2005, 2011) are the only team from CONCACAF to land the ultimate honour.
WELL-KNOWN STARS FROM PAST EDITIONS
The FIFA U17 World Cup has seen many stars of the game cut their teeth and grab the limelight in its past editions. As such the hope is there that Indian football fans will be able to some of the future stars in action this year. Let's take a look at a few of those famous names who made their mark on this tournament:
Landon Donovan: The superstar of US football thrust himself into the spotlight in the 1999 edition held in New Zealand. Donovan won the Golden Ball as he led USA to a creditable fourth-placed finish.
Cesc Fabregas: The Chelsea star was the toast of the tournament in 2003 in Finland, winning the Golden Boot and the Golden Ball award.
Toni Kroos: The poster boy of Real Madrid midfield, Toni Kroos, was exceptional in the 2007 South Korea tournament and won the Golden Ball award.