The ongoing FIFA Men’s World Cup has seen some interesting turns of events, records made or broken, as well as a number of upsets. As the quarterfinals stages are about to begin now, it is expected that there will be some memorable performances by the competing teams, ones that will entertain all football lovers around the world. A lot of expectations remain, and we will very soon see the results unfold in front of our eyes. Will it be “coming home” to England? Will it be France becoming the first nation to successfully defend the title in a long time? Will Brazil achieve a record-extending title? Will it be Argentina? Are we going to see a first-time winner? Will the lone non-European non-Latin American team Morocco cause more upsets? Whatever be the outcome, the remaining matches of this World Cup promises to be an eye feast for fans around the world. Another interesting aspect about this edition is that it will be the last one to be played in the current 32-team format.
The US, Mexico and Canada will be co-hosting the next world cup. In the 2026 edition, there will be 48 teams with at least 80 matches to be played. Critics of the new format say that the quality of games played would be compromised with the increase in number of teams and that the expansion decision was taken for political reasons. Whatever be the politics, the economics of football is only going to get bigger. It would also mean that the number of teams from Asia (AFC) is going to be more than it is now. Meaning, the competition to qualify for the World Cup is going to get bigger than before. In fact, the qualifications round is set to get as big as the finals itself – at least for the rising footballing nations. Countries like India and China are seen as sleeping giants of football because of their sheer population. The game is getting bigger in these countries. Producing world class talents is one thing but the market and economics is another. In India, much focus is now being given towards the development of football. This is also being felt in Nagaland. The newly elected AIFF president visiting the state and launching the FIFA Football for Schools program in Nagaland is a big leap forward. The reports of astro turf football grounds coming up in Nagaland, albeit slowly, are developments in the right direction. The opportunities are now opening up for our youngsters. The only question that remains is whether we are willing to explore the opportunities and plan ahead.
India qualifying for the FIFA World Cup is still a distant dream, or so it seems, but the fact is that India plays for the qualifications. Our neighboring states are emerging as sporting giants in India. Manipur in particular has the most number of professional football players in India while Mizoram is fast catching up. Even Meghalaya and Sikkim have a good number of professional football players playing for various professional clubs in India. It is reported that out of the 270 registered Indian footballers in the ISL, 100 are from the northeastern states. The majority of these players come from Manipur with 41. The NE is regarded as the top breeding ground of football talent in India. The point is, this quaint little town of Mokokchung can surely produce professional football players. The opportunities are unlimited. The only issue is whether we are ready or not.