The abiding memories of 2017 in domestic and international football, will remain India making its tryst with destiny by successfully staging the U-17 World Cup at six venues from October 6 to 28, and the Azzurri joining Holland as Europe’s most notable qualifying failures for the 2018 World Cup. Both of them were eliminated by Sweden. There was also no Group of Death in the World Cup draw at Kremlin, Moscow, in December 2017. Also the Indian senior team remained unbeaten in international football throughout the year, an unprecedented achievement.
India shattered the record for largest attendance at the U-17 World Cup, with 13,47,143 spectators attending the event. This was Indian football’s greatest legacy as it was achieved without any razzmatazz of Bollywood songs or celebrities attending matches. As expected the most passionate fans were from Kolkata. The Brazil vs England semi-final was shifted from Guwahati to Kolkata, barely 48 hours before the match was to commence. Yet the stadium was almost sold out and close to 66,000 fans attended.
The most remarkable spectator statistic was that 45,000 spectators attended an inconsequential Group E league match between Japan and debutants New Caledonia at the Vivekanada Yuva Bharati Krirangan near Kolkata. Local Organising Committee tournament director Javier Ceppi said that such passion for football is unprecedented as even if Japan had hosted the game so many spectators would not have turned up.
India played gallantly in Group A but lost all three matches to superior opposition. Still, the players got ample media exposure and massive adulation from the fans. They became household names. There was no Group of Death in the 2018 World Cup finals draw held on December 1 at Moscow’s State Kremlin Palace concert hall. The 32 countries were seeded based on the October 2017 Fifa world rankings. Hosts Russia, favourites Germany, Brazil, Spain, France and Argentina all got relatively easy groups and should sail through to the knock out Round of 16.
Of the eight groups, only Group B seems comparatively tough with Spain, 2016 European champions Portugal, Iran unbeaten in the Asian qualifiers and Morocco. Debutants Iceland, the smallest nation to ever qualify for the World Cup finals, kick off against Argentina in Group D. The other debutants Panama start against in-form Belgium in Group G.
Italy’s loss in the European playoffs to Sweden shocked their passionate fans. A local newspaper described it as an apocalypse. The elimination is a sharp reminder that talented players are not emerging from Serie A. In both matches, Italy dominated possession with 23 shots at goal, away and 20 at home but failed to score. Their current striker Ciro Immobile is not a patch on the greats of the past like Paolo Rossi, Toto Schillaci and Alessaandro del Piero. Ace goalkeeper Gianluigi Buffon (175 caps) announced his retirement after the elimination. The national team coached by Stephen Constantine played nine matches in 2017, won seven and drew two, scoring 18 goals and conceding just seven and qualified for the Asian Cup final rounds in 2019. The Asian Football Confederation recognised the Indian Super League and there was surge in the prices of Indian players in the auction held in July. The I-League and ISL are being held simultaneously and a merger is expected next year.