Encouraged by the renewed interest in football generated by the success of ISL, the All India Football Federation is looking to bid for the under-20 World Cup for either 2019 or 2021 editions, revealed the its general secretary Kushal Das.

India will be hosting the under-17 World Cup in 2017 and the AIFF seeks to continue the momentum of the grassroots developments by giving its selection of junior players another top level youth tournament. “We have the infrastructure in place for the under-17 World Cup and there is a group of very talented footballers whom we are getting ready for the tournament. Naturally, the next step will be to bid for the under-20 World Cup and sustain the momentum of development,” said Mr. Das as the AIFF launched a fresh edition of the I-League, which will begin on January 9.

The junior boys training under German coach Nicolai Adam in the AIFF academy have the potential to be the future game changers. “They will be going on a series of exposure trips starting with South Africa. And I expect them to play in leagues in Europe and Latin America in future,” Mr. Das said.

‘Expect India to qualify by merit’

The AIFF secretary sounded very positive about the grass-root development programme and said that he expected the Indian boys to earn a qualification berth in the U-17 World Cup on merit when India hosts the AFC Asian qualifiers and not utilise the berth reserved for the hosting country.

“The ISL has had a very positive rub-off on football in general in the country. I-League has definitely benefited from the success of this new initiative which is being looked with lot of optimism across the world. “The I-league last year was one of the most competitive editions. This definitely was due to the positive influence of the ISL and I think the I-League will be more successful this year,” the AIFF secretary said. Despite the pull-out of the teams like Pune FC and Bharat FC, which has made the country’s only FIFA recognized club football league a nine-team affair this season, Mr. Das said there was still a lot to look out for.

“Overall the Indian picture is quite bright as the investment factor has trebled in the last couple of seasons since the introduction of ISL. And with 17 club team in business, combining the ISL and I-League, we can always have a unified league in future,” Mr. Das said adding that there are some technicalities that needs to be sorted out before the said unification of ISL and I-League takes place in the “near future”.