Kolkata: The legendary P.K. Banerjee on Tuesday said India should utilize the FIFA U-17 World Cup to secure its future as a footballing nation and urged the players to take the team to the next level by giving their best.

Banerjee, who was named Indian footballer of the 20th century by Fifa, urged the country to back the players who will represent India in the mega-event. “I have not seen what they (players) have done. What I know is that they are our future and we have to back them," Banerjee told PTI during an interaction. “The pool needs to be increased. More U-17, U-19 players need to be taken into the fold so that our future as a footballing nation is secured," the 80-year-old added.

Banerjee is in sync with All India Football Federation (AIFF) plans to develop the team for bigger tournaments. “This bunch needs to be together after the World Cup. They need to play as a team and then can represent India at the U-19 level and maybe at the U-20 World Cup."

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Banerjee was conferred with the prestigious Fifa Centennial Order of Merit in 2004. Despite a tough draw, Banerjee is optimistic about the host nation’s chances in its maiden appearance. While India have competed at the AFC U-16 Championship seven times, they could get past the first round only once, in 2002. “The stats can wait. I love my country, and it’s time to cheer for India in the World Cup, it’s a moment of pride for all of us."

India begins its campaign in New Delhi against the US on 6 October, followed by matches against Colombia on 9 October and Ghana on 12 October. A second-string Colombia had thrashed India 3-0 in a four-nation tour last month and their most promising result was a 1-1 draw against Chile. The Luis Norton de Matos-coached side, which is among the three debutants alongside New Caledonia and Niger, would be aiming to make the last-16 at least.

Banerjee said, “The time has come for the boys to give their life for the World Cup. We never had such a kind of opportunity in our days. Take India to the next level."

Banerjee had played in 84 internationals during the 13 years he had represented India. This included three Asian Games (Tokyo, Jakarta and Bangkok). He was member of the Indian team which finished fourth (the country’s best result) in the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and had captained the national team at the 1960 Rome Olympics. “There has been a sea change to the city’s infrastructure with the World Cup final slated here. From roads to the stadium, there has been a transformation. It’s not a matter of joke," he said of the tournament starting 6 October.

Banerjee’s favourite team is Germany, who were knocked out by Croatia in the pre-quarterfinals of the last edition of the tournament. “Every team must be wary of Germany. Be it at this level or senior, they are a very strong side skillfully. You cannot take them for a ride."

“The African nations are may be strong physically but football is game of skill and tactics. I can’t wait to see the World Cup matches at home," he said. A Padma Shri, Banerjee helped coach the national team from 1970 to 1986. PTI