And so that day has arrived, as India have become the fifth Asian nation to have hosted a FIFA U-17 World Cup. The first day alone saw 11 goals scored in four games, and only one match was settled with a margin greater than one goal.
But what is it that the 504 players across 24 nations are seeking to gain from this event? And how significant could this tournament be in their nascent football career?
The gulf in quality
Richard Hood, head of youth development of the All India Football Federation (AIFF), says that while the gap in quality between senior football and lower rungs like U-20 and U-17 football is progressively narrowing each year, it is still a long shot to hope that today's U-17 prospects will necessarily light up the world stage tomorrow.
"It is believed that only one in 200 U-17 players goes on to get a professional contract with a good club, and this is simply because every year there will only be so many players retiring or getting injured for a coach to invest in a young talent," he says. "And here I am talking of clubs like River Plate, Sao Paulo, Manchester United and Real Madrid. If you see the career of most of these players, they will probably have to settle for a team in the second division."
Hood cites an English Football Association (FA) study that crunched the numbers for the 116 clubs across the top five divisions of English football, and their academies. It was found that about 98 percent of those who got a scholarship at 16 found themselves outside the top five divisions by age 18. Another study revealed that only eight in 400 players who were given a professional contract at 18 were still active in the game at 22.
Not a biggie for the developed football world
Shaji Prabhakaran, president of Delhi United and a former regional development officer with FIFA, believes this U-17 World Cup is not as crucial for countries where the football ecosystem is already developed.
"The path from youth levels into the club level is understood (in those countries). But for other teams like India, the World Cup is a huge opportunity," he says. "There will be scouts coming to watch the World Cup matches and the games will be televised across the world. When I was in Chile (for the U-17 World Cup in 2015), many players were picked. The boys who performed exceptionally well were chased. Many of the Nigerian boys got picked by English or Bundesliga clubs, after they turned eighteen. There is no other stage for you, especially in a country like ours."
Former Laos manager Steve Darby, who has also coached Mohun Bagan and Mumbai City in Indian football, is a good example of someone who shone as goalkeeper with Liverpool schools in the 1970s, but a middling playing career saw him move to coaching at the age of 24. Darby doesn't believe England's U-20 World Cup win will help add much interest in this campaign, saying, "The English media is far more engrossed in the Premier League than in national youth teams. I think it will only be recognised if they get to the final -- it's a tournament that's seen as a development programme."
Interestingly, Brazil's national team coach Tite is sure to keep an eye out on the U-17 team's performance. Coach Carlos Amadeu had organised a friendly in September against the U-19 national team days before they left for India, and Tite made it a point to attend the match with his assistants Cleber Xavier and Matheus Bachi. He not only saw them in action, but shared a lunch organised by the federation, leaving them with a simple message, "Good job! I do not like good luck. You're in good hands."
What will be the benefits then?
"After the World Cup, the world will look at India in a different way," says Prabhakran. "If a single player makes a mark, they will start investing in India to discover more talent. From the organisational as well as the sporting perspective, the perception will change (to one) that India also plays football."
"Efficient administration of games is vital to the image of the country," says Darby. "The Indian Super League (ISL) showed it can be done, but the threat of interfering committee men is something that needs to be stopped at source. Also the players are the stars, not politicians -- no one cares about politicians, when will that ever be understood?"
How will the Indian footballers gain?
All said and done, this is a World Cup, and there's an Indian team which is guaranteed 270 minutes of action on the field. When asked how he might have approached a similar situation in his career, Sunil Chhetri says, "Probably the same way they're doing -- prepare in the best possible manner. I just hope they don't get intimidated by the atmosphere. This will be the best month of their lives."
"It's an opportunity for great life stories to emerge such as Amarjit (Singh) rising from a village in Manipur to captain his country," says Darby. Prabhakaran says these players must now have the opportunity to play regularly, and not be seen warming the bench at any of the clubs. "These players are the peak on which so much has been invested. They have to play. The next two-three years will be crucial for them. This is only the start for them," he says.
Hood tempers any massive expectations from the entire playing field with an example from the FIFA U-20 World Cup winners of 2015. "Serbia won in 2015, but there's no guarantee that you will ever see those players at a senior World Cup. So there's no guarantee, for instance, that the best right-back at this U-17 World Cup will be seen at a senior World Cup, because he will have to maintain his level till U-20 and for that, he has to play at a good enough club to keep improving."
This is the crucial difference between the big football nations and the younger ones at this U-17 World Cup -- players from Germany, Brazil, Spain, Mexico and France all have their clubs sorted once this World Cup gets over, a luxury not afforded to players from the smaller countries, as pointed out by Hood. "For the first timers, I frankly don't think their players would have the pedigree to play in a top five European league. You have to be part of a system where you have been playing 60-70 competitive games in a year from around the age of eight guided by good coaching so that it takes care of your psychological, physiological development and strong neurological wiring that's tuned by the age of six, which only a strong game culture can deliver."