25 October KOLKATA (India)-Till just the other day things were so simple for England. A wonderfully trained team, an all-win record in the U-17 World Cup here, they had played their matches in a Kolkata which, mirroring its newfound, current-day love for English football, was embracing them with warm, open arms.
It was all fine, even their semifinal against old foes, Brazil in Guwahati was to only be part of the process that Steve Cooper’s young team had been working on. Then, suddenly, the game was shifted to Kolkata.
They say you shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth. But how do you explain this one – arguably the biggest U-17 World Cup game ever? “I could see which side enjoyed more support on Sunday,” Cooper said of the Brazil-Ger many quarterfinal at the Salt Lake Stadium here. “We will try to quieten the crowd with our game and win them over.”
He was alluding to the feverish, yellowish display of a 60,000(and counting)-strong stadium. He was putting on a brave front. Every Kolkatan in the room – young, old or both – knew it was an exercise in futility.
That is because Brazil and Brazilian teams are as Kolkatan as they are from where they come from. If some even entertained that fleeting thought about this game being a clash between an ancient idea and newbie phenomenon, it was swiftly put to rest.
Kochi and Goa, the two venues that hosted Lincoln, Paulinho, Alan and Brothers at this World Cup, were bathed in yellow as they staked claim to be genuine Brazilian faithfuls. But it was a no-contest by the time the caravan reached Kolkata, Indian football’s – and paradoxically Brazilian football’s spiritual home. This Brazilian team knows it too. “I would have liked to play here since the start of the tournament but that was not possible,” Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu said what this city was always wishing.
Tickets went on sale once the shift from Guwahati was final, and all 35,000 of them were sold out in a matter of a mere six hours. There is little mistaking that the mad scramble for tickets has had much to do with Brazil’s involvement.
Sports-crazy Kolkatans are known to throng stadiums wishing nothing more than watching a good contest. Even if there’s the possible ‘anti-climax’ of a Mali-England final on Saturday, the regular Kolkatan is rejoicing that there will also be a mouth-watering Brazil-Spain bronze medal match. They see the silver lining even in a wooden spoon affair.
“We are happy to be here again,” Amadeu was saying. Chances are, unlike his opposite number Cooper, he was actually meaning it. “We will try to repay the fans’ love with our brand of beautiful football,” he added.
That’s just what Kolkata has been praying for since the city discovered the magic of Brazil. This week, that fervent dream is coming true.