It is at the FIFA Under 17 World Cup that Indian team has found a place in a world cup competition in any age group. But, it was almost 67 years back that we had almost made it. Almost, because a mere 50,000 or the lack of it prevented an Indian team from playing at the Maracana in Brazil in 1950. As a consequence of the withdrawal of a few teams, FIFA had invited India as the only Asian team to be part of the 1950 tournament. The invite was official and things were almost final with India included in final three with the Paraguay, Sweden, and Italy. While there was excitement at home as a result of the invitation, the first real stumbling block was that Indians were being given a passage from Cairo and not from Kolkata.
The Indian football federation, however, was not in a position to pay for travel between Kolkata and Cairo and requested FIFA for a revision of thought and allowing a travel from Kolkata to Brazil. After four difficult and painful days of wait, FIFA allowed it. The first match was to be against Paraguay and if one went by India’s record, the team had a fair good chance of winning their first world cup encounter. It was a team that could have performed because it was already doing well in the practice matches against a number of countries. Eventually, however, the team did not travel to Brazil obviously because the football federation was unable to collect funds required to undertake the trip.
Whatever the reason, it was a splendid opportunity that was lost. A good showing could have given Indian football a major boost and team the stimulus it so badly needed at that time. Coming back to 2017, chances are India might not even win one game against the United States, Columbia or Ghana and will probably not make it to the knockout stages. However, the opportunity of playing in front of a world cup crowd is slated to give a unique experience to these players, something that they may not have got in their sporting career till now.
It might also well be the start of something credible that could yield results in a decade or more. With the Indian super league making a push and the national team enjoying a continuing success, a spirited performance from the boys could be the tipping point needed for the Indian football.
It ended badly in 1950. A mere Rs. 50000 stood between India and the world cup. This time around, millions have been spent in staging the world cup and millions more will be if India is given the rights to host the next Under 20 competition. Things have drastically changed in Indian football. This tournament, it is expected will make this change happen. And if India does well and manages a point against the likes of the U.S., it will be a pretty big deal for football in this country. A point will mean a new lifeline for the game and from there on, the sport can only forward. It is time to call it play and avenge the long 67 years of frustration.