India have been drawn with USA, Colombia and Ghana in Group A of the 2017 Under 17 World Cup, which kicks off in October. The draw, which was held in Mumbai this evening, also puts Brazil and Spain, two of the most successful footballing nations, in the same group.
The 24 teams include former title winners France and Mexico, current senior world champions Germany, England - who recently won the Under-20 World Cup - and first-time qualifiers New Caledonia.Here are the final groups.
Group A: India, USA, Colombia, Ghana
Group B: Paraguay, Mali, New Zealand, Turkey
Group C: Iran, Germany, Costa Rica, Guinea
Group D: North Korea, Brazil, Spain, Niger
Group E: Honduras, Japan, New Caledonia, France
Group F: Iraq, Mexico, Chile, England
The tournament kicks off on October 6 with two matches played simultaneously; India's first match, in New Delhi, will be against the USA, the draw fulfilling a wish expressed moments before by Sunil Gulati, the president of the United States Soccer Federation with roots in India. The other most anticipated match, between Brazil and Spain, takes place in Kochi on October 7.
This will be the first ever FIFA tournament in India, and will be held in six cities from October 6-28. As Praful Patel, the All India Football Federation president, noted, India are looking at hosting the Under-20 World Cup in two years' time and will hope this tournament helps that bid.
The draw was conducted by several sporting stars, including India's football captain Sunil Chhetri, former Arsenal footballer Nwankwo Kanu - a winner of this tournament with Nigeria - and Argentina's Esteban Cambiasso.
India's group matches
October 6: India vs. USA,
October 9: India vs. Colombia
October 12: Ghana vs. India
(All matches at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, New Delhi | Kick-off: 8 PM)
India's football history is patchy at best, with their continental successes coming more than 50 years ago, but their recent rise up the FIFA rankings has given hope that a sport that's been in the shadow of cricket for several decades may finally find its feet.
India's U-17 coach Luis Matos said that despite getting a tough draw, his team will not be afraid and will fight against their experienced opponents.
"We have been working for a long time. In football, there are no impossible things. If our opponents are strong and very experienced, we will fight for the result," he said. "The boys are enthusiastic to play. They are not afraid. I am not afraid. Even if we have 20 percent of a chance in any of the games, we will fight."
Ghana, ranked 5th, are the highest ranked team in India's group, followed by USA (8th) and Colombia (15th). Here are a few more facts about India's group stage opponents.
Best performance: Fourth place in 1999
Last tournament: Group Stage in 2015
They have participated in the U-17 WC 15 times
Best performance: Fourth place in 2003, 2009
Last tournament: Fourth place in 2009
They have participated in the U-17 WC 5 times
Best performance: Champions in 1991, 1995
Last tournament: Fourth place in 2007
They have participated in the U-17 WC 8 times