The AIFF President also identified next year’s U-17 FIFA World Cup as a defining moment for Indian football…

All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel has said the Blue Tigers are targeting qualification for the FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022.

Patel, who is also the Asian Football Confederation (AFC) Vice President, says that qualifying in six years’ time would be the perfect opportunity to capitalise on the vast support the national team is expected to get during the first ever World Cup in the Middle East.

“We aspire towards qualifying for the 2022 World Cup because of the support our national team is going to receive and will need to ensure that the right steps are taken towards realising this objective,” said Patel on the sidelines of the India Football Forum 2016 in New Delhi.

The Indian national team last won the Asian Games title in 1962 and were runners-up in the AFC Asian Cup two years later.

In 2013, Patel, who has held the top job at the AIFF since 2010 oversaw India’s successful bid to win the hosting rights of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2017 – and he is now presiding over ongoing preparations towards its successful delivery.

The AIFF recently launched a U-17 World Cup legacy project, a grassroots initiative called Mission Eleven Million, intended to make football the sport of choice for 11 million urban children by the time of the historic tournament and expand the reach of the initiative in the years following the landmark event.

“The FIFA U-17 World Cup next year will be a defining moment for Indian football. We have had an intense focus on the U-16 and U-17 age-groups and will ensure the national team spends the next few years training and playing together.”

Patel also said that the progress made and publicity gained since winning the rights to host the FIFA tournament for the first time will help encourage and facilitate the continued development of the next generation of Indian footballers.

“They will give their best during the U-17 World Cup next year and following the tournament, we will bid for the FIFA U-20 World Cup,” he continued. “We have told the FIFA Competitions Committee that we are keen to host the event at the earliest available opportunity in 2019 and this will further boost to our grassroots initiatives.

“Many of the current U-16 boys will be a well-knit group and will be ready for national team duty in time for the 2022 World Cup qualifiers, which will start around the same time.”

Patel said the turnaround in the fortunes of Indian football can be attributed to the emphasis placed on youth scouting and the investment flowing into sectors such as grassroots development, infrastructure building and refurbishment.

“There has been intense focus on these areas by the AIFF helped by the AFC. Corporates have started putting money into football over the last few years and this is starting to pay dividends,” he added.

“Winning the FIFA U-17 World Cup hosting rights has sparked the interest of the Indian government in the development of the sport.”

However, Patel said this is just the beginning of the journey for Indian football and called on his country’s natural partners to help in the growth of the game.

“There is still some way forward for Indian football to complete the three-way jigsaw which will take it to its desired goal – player development, infrastructure growth and incremental investment.

“More needs to be done and we need all possible help, including financial, from all our natural partners including Qatar.”