Indian cricket icon Sachin Tendulkar batted for football in Kolkata on Sunday, saying that with the 2017 Under-17 World Cup coming to the country, qualifying for the 2022 FIFA World Cup is a realistic goal.
"2022 sounds like a realistic target. We are hosting the 2017 Under-17 World Cup, so it sounds realistic... I would like to believe that," Tendulkar said during the Indian leg of the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour.
"We need to focus on the process. To participate in a big tournament like World Cup is something that does not happen overnight. It's a journey and for a journey to happen, there's a process. The platform has to be provided to young talent," he added.
However, Tendulkar cautioned that a lot of work needs to be done to develop talent that can match the best in the world. "To achieve success, there's a lot of hard work and planning. You have got to have proper facilities and teach the young kids."
This is not the first time Tendulkar has been associated with football. The Master Blaster, along with Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri, felicitated a national Under-15 sub junior football tournament in May this year. "I had the privilege of meeting Sunil Chhetri. The way he analyses football is completely different from what I understand. I was there to show my support to young footballers and some of whom I believe will participate in the World Cup in 2022," he said.
"I was so impressed by the energy. It was so vibrant. They were so competitive. You have to respect your opposition in any sport and not take things for granted. It's important to play in the right spirit. They were all fighting so hard to lift the trophy. With a billion people in India, talent is definitely there," Tendulkar pointed out.
Tendulkar said he was honoured to be present as the FIFA World Cup trophy was unveiled in Kolkata. "It's a special moment. I hope all the people from Kolkata will enjoy the trophy and respect the rules and regulations."
Tendulkar, who lifted the cricket World Cup in 2011, said it was the ultimate moment for a sportsperson. "1983 was an important year in my life. I saw the cup in Kapil Dev's hands, it was a big moment. When I saw that I told myself I want to be there in that position one day.
"I had to chase my dream really hard and I had to wait for 22 years. But I was prepared to work hard as long as my dream was accomplished," he added. "That victory lap was special. The golden moment was when I held the trophy in my hands. That's what I played for. Then, I realised that my life has turned a full circle. The number of years, wherever I have traveled, this was on the ultimate...It was the icing on the cake," he added.