On October 6, an Indian national football team will make its debut in a World Cup finals. India is hosting the under-17 World Cup finals, and our competition will include Brazil, Germany, Spain, Mexico, France and England. India’s group contains the United States, Colombia and Ghana. It will be an upset, maybe even a miracle, should we make it to the round of 16. The slim shoulders of these teenagers—Christians being fed to the lions of world football—will have to bear lightly the dead weight of Indian football's failure, its considerable but inglorious history, its well-founded inferiority complex and its recent revival as glitzy entertainment for the urban middle-class TV viewer. This new breed of Indian football fan, raised on cricketing success and a newly belligerent national mood, might not have much patience for failure.
India might be a footballing backwater but it has a distinguished history. The Durand Cup is one of the world’s oldest knockout tournaments, behind only the FA Cup and the Scottish Cup. In 1911 Mohun Bagan won the IFA Shield, the world’s fourth oldest football tournament, playing barefoot against East Yorkshire Regiment. On the day, it was perhaps nothing more than a tweaked nose for the British empire, a rare opportunity for the subjugated to laugh at their oppressors; in retrospect it seems like a blow struck in the name of inevitable independence. Those 11 men were freedom fighters.
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