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FIFA: U-17 WC proves India can host 'major events'

Security personnel outside Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, one of the venues for the U-17 World Cup.
Security personnel outside Guwahati’s Indira Gandhi Athletic Stadium, one of the venues for the U-17 World Cup.

FIFA's head of competitions Jamie Yarza has praised India's readiness to host "major events" in world football, speaking at a press conference alongside All India Football Federation (AIFF) president Praful Patel and Local Organising Committee (LOC) tournament director Javier Ceppi, in Kolkata on Thursday.

Yarza's comments come a day ahead of a FIFA Executive Committee meeting in Kolkata, where Patel has said he will utilise an invitation to give a speech to re-emphasise India's desire to host the 2019 U-20 World Cup, using all the "goodwill" at his disposal.

"The requirements for any World Cup are good training facilities, good stadiums, proper accommodation and good local organisation," Yarza said. "India has shown that it has facilities in every aspect that can host major events. The stadiums are of a level almost at par with the senior World Cup. If they keep developing infrastructure-wise, then it will be there."

Patel said that the only regret he had about the ongoing U-17 World Cup was that the semi-final between Brazil and England, slated to be held in Guwahati on October 25, had to be shifted to Kolkata because of inclement weather and unplayable pitch conditions at the Indira Gandhi Stadium.

"The north-east has become an epicentre for football and the passion is so high for the sport, that it would have been befitting if Guwahati had hosted the semi-final," he said.

Ceppi said the first Hindi word he learnt when he began his job as tournament director was 'jugaad' (innovation) and quickly went about getting people around him to unlearn it. "When I understood the meaning of 'jugaad', I realised it was all that we didn't want. That culture of 'jugaad' was never going to work. We couldn't just rely on the impressive capacity of Indians to turn things around at the last minute," Ceppi said.

That capacity, however, would be required on the night of October 22, when the pitch conditions were so bad during Mali's 2-1 quarter-final victory, Ghana's coach Samuel Fabin said the "field didn't help much" in what he called a disappointing game.

"The reality is that it rained for 48 hours, and no ground would have been able to sustain that rain. There was a match played in that rain between two very strong sides," Ceppi said. "We were there till two in the morning on Sunday night, but it started raining again at 4 am on Monday morning. Nobody would have wanted to move the game, and people of Assam wanted that game to happen."

Ceppi denied that there was any problem with the drainage systems of the stadium in Guwahati.

"The pitch in Guwahati is clay-based, and all the pipes from the drainage points were clean and functioning perfectly. There was also a 150mm base of sand, as mandated by FIFA, and then the grass. The construction of the pitch was one of the best in the country," he said.

"It was just an unfortunate chain of events. We tried everything -- including using a helicopter -- but the damage was so much that no matches could be played."

Yarza commended the role of all six host cities for the success of the tournament, which has seen a combined attendance in excess of 1.2 million spectators and could achieve a dual milestone on the last day of competition on Saturday.

"It has been fantastic in every sense. All teams were very happy and most were unhappy only at the thought of leaving India. If both matches on the final day [third-place playoff and the final] see a filled stadium, then we might break the records not just for the U-17 World Cup, but also for all U-20 World Cups," Yarza said. 

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