KOLKATA /NEW DELHI: The Fifa U-17 World Cup drew to a close in Kolkata, as England thrashed Spain 5-2 to clinch their maiden under 17 world cup title. The real winners, however, were India, as the huge attendance numbers and overall success of the tournament are a major indication that football has a home here.

A total of 52 matches were contested, with the final – in which England overturned a two-goal deficit before eventually overwhelming Spain – providing a fitting climax.

In the process, the Young Lions etched their names into history by winning the title for the first time, following in the footsteps of their older compatriots, who achieved the very same feat at the FIFA U-20 World Cup Korea Republic 2017.

Although India didn’t perform that well in the tournament itself, the victory lay in the fact that the Fifa U-17 World Cup’s 17th edition became the most attended and the highest scoring tournament ever. The India hosted event shattered the previous attendance record of FIFA U-20 World Cup, which was in 2011 in Colombia where 1,309,929 people watched the event. The total number of people attending the India edition of the mega event were 1,347,143.

The final match was played to 66,684 spectators, who filled Kolkata's Salt Lake Stadium (Yuva Bharati Krirangan) to the brim. The match was thrilling. Spain scored twice in the first half, but England scripted an epic comeback to take the victory.

Three teams made their debuts at the tournament, chief among them hosts India, who enjoyed fervent support throughout despite bowing out with three losses in the group stage. Jeakson Thounaojam's goal against Colombia was the highlight of the home nation's campaign, which is sure to stand Indian football in good stead for the future.

New Caledonia, one of two Oceanian representatives, endured a baptism of fire in the shape of thumpings by France and Honduras, but returned home brimming with pride after holding Japan to a draw to earn their first point at the competition. For their part, Niger shone, opening with victory and qualifying for the knockout stage.

Though they were not debutants, Iraq also deserve special mention here, having displayed just how far they have come since their maiden appearance in 2013, when they lost all three of their matches. The Iraqis went into the tournament as Asian champions and carried forward the momentum from that triumph in India last year, picking up their first victory on this stage and making it out of their group by finishing second, with four points.

“It was an electrifying tournament,” said Devayush Roy, an avid football fan and attendee. “This kind of enthusiasm has been the domain of cricket, and that too in the past. In recent years, we haven’t seen stadiums packed to capacity for even cricket. It was after a long time that the stadium atmosphere was truly electrifying, and I’m excited to say that football definitely has a bright future in India.”

“The fact that this was the most attended u-17 world cup just shows how passionate people are about the sport,” says Neha Kumar, another attendee. “This is hugely encouraging. I know our boys are not of an international standard when it comes to football, but I know if the crowd continues supporting the sport the way they have this tournament, it’s only a matter of time that team India will come to excel in world football.”

The success of the tournament is a hugely positive sign for the future of football in India, as the sport has thus far played second fiddle to cricket. As footballing great Marco van Basten correctly said, “football in India will get a new horizon with the U-17 World Cup.”

TANMOY BHADURI’s photos tell the full story:

Spain scored twice in the first half, England scripted an epic comeback in front of a packed crowd of 66,000.

England and Manchester City midfielder Phil Foden scored twice to help his side win the tournament, and was awarded with the Golden Boy award for his great performance.

With eight goals in the tournament, England striker Rhian Brewster, was the tournament's leading goal scorer and deservedly won the Golden Boot Award.

AIFF President Praful Patel, Union sports minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee gave away the awards on Saturday.

Gianni Infantino takes a selfie with Volunteers after the tournament is over.​

(All photos by TANMOY BHADURI, on assignment for The Citizen)