KOLKATA: A day after FIFA President Gianni Infantino waxed eloquent about India's organisation of the U-17 World Cup and even went to say the future is bright for the sport in the country, national team skipper Sunil Chhetri urged all stakeholders to cash in on this recognition.
Chhetri, who is the face of the sport in the country and is the all-time leading goalscorer for the national team, said it is imperative all the more now for the national teams to step up.
"The biggest gain for us is that Indian football has been recognised at the world stage. This is the best opportunity to cash in and make it count," Chhetri, in the city for the World Cup final and third place clash between Spain-England and Brazil-Mali, told IANS in an interview.
India qualified for the AFC Asian Cup 2019 after eight years. Under head coach Stephen Constantine, in July they jumped to their best-ever ranking of 96 since February 1996. Now India is ranked 105.
Chhetri expressed satisfaction that the next set of players to represent the senior team is ready with the U-17 boys giving a good account of themselves in three Group A matches they played.
"Our boys played so well, man. These are the guys who will come into the senior team now and we need to hold them together and continue their development," said Chhetri, who plays for Indian Super League (ISL) club Bengaluru FC.
The talismanic striker said for sustained development, the authorities should ensure the infrastructure is maintained after the World Cup is over.
"The hospitality was excellent. We have been great hosts. Now we need to make sure the facilities are maintained.
We need to make sure such enthusiasm does not die down with the World Cup getting over. For that, the national teams need to keep doing well but also the infrastructure needs to be taken care of," the 33-year old, also India's most capped international, said.
Overall, Chhetri opined that there are only pros from the youth meet, hosted by India for the first time, with players of the ilk of England's Rhian Brewster and Spain's Abel Ruiz taking part.
"We have seen top class players like Rhian Brewster, Abel Ruiz strut their stuff in front of our eyes. These players will play at the highest level in few years' time. Overall this has been a top tournament and everyone has recognised that. We have lived up to our potential as hosts. Now is the time to build on it," he signed off.