The attendance figures at the Jawaharlal Nehru stadium in Kochi for the ongoing FIFA U17 World Cup have been slightly underwhelming at times. Though the first match of the much-vaunted tournament at Kochi between Spain and Brazil witnessed a sell out crowd of around 21000, the figures fluctuated spectacularly for the following games.
It was surprising for many because normally the Indian Super League (ISL) games pull in around 50000 people for a game at the same venue. Yes, the capacity was reduced significantly for the U17 World Cup, but many expected the figures to be higher than what was recorded at the venue in the 'Queen of Arabian Sea'.
But one exception to the rule was the Brazil U17. The Selecao received wholehearted support from the Kochi crowd in all their three games at the venue, with people thronging the stadium wearing the famous yellow shirts emblazoned with 'Neymar Jr.' and so on. Those who did not manage to get a Brazil jersey made do with a Kerala Blasters jersey, which is also incidentally yellow in colour. After all, it was the colour that counted.
It was no surprise that Brazil got such support in Kerala, given the fanaticism of fans in the state during the senior World Cup when it comes to Latin American countries. The flair and style with which countries like Brazil and Argentina play football has always struck a chord with Kerala. One will see houses, walls and even auto-rickshaws decorated with flags, posters and graffiti involving Brazil or Argentina in most parts of the state during a World Cup.
With the rising popularity of European football leagues, these days it is no big surprise to see supporters of teams like Spain, Portugal or even England. But Brazil still reigns supreme in terms of fans and so it proved during the U17 World Cup.
On Wednesday, Brazil faced off against Honduras in the Round of 16 and went on to record a 3-0 win to set up a meeting with Germany. The scenes outside the stadium were as expected, a sea of yellow and green. A peek into the closest metro station to the stadium would have made you wonder if you were still in India, for the scene was dominated by Brazil jersey-clad fans and face painters merrily counting the coins earned for painting the Brazil flag on excited cheeks.
But the final 15 minutes of the game saw the partisan crowd in Kochi ring in the boos at times!
Surprised? Well, Carlos Amadeu's boys brought that upon themselves to an extent. Such was the way they thrilled the adoring audience in the first 75 minutes of the game with a kind of football that only the 'Samba' nation can play, the crowd felt cheated when Brazil tried to hold onto the ball and waste time towards the end.
Alan, Marcos Antonio and Victor Bobsin had orchestrated attack after attack that had the crowd gasping at each and every moment. They played with a certain unbridled passion that is associated with the famous Brazilian 'ginga' that the fans felt it was criminal to deny them the pleasure of watching it in the final 15 minutes.
The result was loud choruses of boos and groups of fans heading for the exit doors well before the final whistle blew. However, huge cheers and applause saw off the victors at full time whistle, who sadly won't be returning to the venue in the tournament.
The final game in Kochi is on Sunday when Spain take on Iran for a spot in the semifinals. Kochi already knows what Spain has to offer, with the Spaniards having played three of their four games so far here. They are on a high after beating France and have been playing attractive football while Iran is tipped by many as the dark horse of the tournament, given their strong run so far which included a 4-0 dismantling of Germany.
Both teams have the entertainment factor in them and the 'unsatiated' crowd in Kochi will be hoping they get to see an attacking game full of flair, rather than a cagey one in which case the fans might make themselves heard.
While there is a hype around the game in the city with fans eager to witness the final game of the tournament in the city, one feels the involvement of Brazil would have taken the demand for tickets to wholly different levels. But one thing is for sure, the final match in Kochi promises to be a crackerjacker!