ATANU MITRA (Follow @Atanu00 on Twitter)
For the last two weeks, the Bengali football fans had been simmering with resentment. The renovated Salt Lake Stadium has seen staggering attendance but the anguish of not getting to watch India's matches made the extravaganza a bit pale.
Come Sunday, the city will host the mega quarter-final clash between Brazil and Germany, where the two mighty title challengers representing different styles and legacies will face each other. The game to be held on the final evening of the region’s long festive period has got everyone talking.
Kolkata used to be a Brazil bastion in every sense of the word. Before the World Cup was first telecast live on Indian television in 1982, the Men in Yellow had a near-monopoly over Kolkata’s hearts primarily because of a preference for flair and style over substance.
The fans gathered to hear the commentary on radios, and Brazil flags adorned the walls of local clubs.
A diminutive left-footed attacker changed that in 1986. The younger generation fell prey to Diego Maradona’s trickery as a surge in Argentine supporters swept across the city. There were murmurs among the loyal Brazilian base also, giving birth to a miniscule but weird third category of those who supported Brazil and Maradona.
For the next 20 years or so, Brazil vs Argentina became the region’s most talked about football rivalry after Mohun Bagan vs East Bengal. The two teams never crossed each other's path in the World Cup after 1990. The Ronaldo-Rivaldo-Ronaldinho trio regained some lost ground with their heroics in early 2000’s while Lionel Messi more than compensated for that since the second half of last decade.
While the fanaticism around Brazil had much to do with its rivalry with Argentina, the Blue and Whites will not be present in the City of Joy this time around. The local fans will hence seek a revenge for the drubbing in Belo Horizonte, where the hosts had to exit the World Cup in tears after losing 7-1 to Germany three years ago.
53-year old Chandranath Seal, who had travelled to the Stadium with a Brazil flag when Messi’s Argentina played Venezuela in 2010, expects the stands to support Alan and co.
“One problem is that the ticket sales started so early, so there can be too many casual fans, who are not die-hard supporters of any of the two teams. Otherwise, it would have been brilliant to have 60,000 Brazil fans shout together. Even then, in Kolkata, one always expects it to be a clear majority in our favour. And when you hear support for Germany, be sure those are mostly Argentina fans,” he says with a confidence so common among veteran fans of this region.
The Brazil contingent, who arrived in the city after enjoying big support from the Kochi crowd, left no stone unturned to further add fuel to the fire. “I expect the fans to come out in numbers,” Carlos Amadeu, the coach, remarked on Thursday. “I had decided to hold our preparatory camp here only, but had to shift it for the festival (Durga Puja),” he added.
The German coach, after getting a hint of what is waiting for his team, tried to play down the importance of support from the stands. “The attendance has been superb for all the matches and I expect that on Sunday too. But I am not bothered about which team they support,” Christian Wueck said.
There are tactical nuances involved also. Brazil have only conceded once till now and have looked arguably the most confident outfit, switching on and off the engine at their will. The Germans are heavily dependent on striker Jann-Fiete Arp and need to fix their porous defence.
The Brazilians aren't interested in following the narrative the infamous 7-1 result and are quick to point to their victory over Germans at the Olympics. For the fans going to the stadium, though, these facts would hardly matter.
“Only that result is on our minds. Nothing can be sweeter than avenging that loss in Kolkata,” Seal says. Most of the fans, who would be roaring with every Brazil attack this Sunday, will have the same mindset.