How FIFA World Cup battle lines get drawn in India | Football News – Times of India


From repainted houses to renamed menus, fans in the grip of football frenzy are going all out to root for their favourite teams at the quadrennial spectacle
Qualification is still a pipe dream, but Indians know how to get a kick out of the football World Cup. And with the 2022 edition in Qatar being as close to home as it gets, football fever is riding high with the country once again divided into the contending colours of the storied teams, from Brazil to Argentina and Portugal to England.

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Just the last week, there was a slanging match that led to two people coming to blows at a small tea stall in Kerala‘s Malappuram. Those who tried to break up the fight found that the two were brothers, but it was no family dispute that had them charged up. “He might be my brother, but till December 18 I have no relation with him,” said one of them. That is when it dawned on all that the siblings were split over football loyalties, the elder one was an Argentina fan while the younger brother supported Brazil.
Such disputes and quarrels are a common sight in Kerala whenever a football World Cup is around the corner. Once every four years, the flags and cutouts of political parties make way for the banners and posters of global footballing heroes. Even the menu cards of hotels and juice bars are updated with items renamed for football stars and teams. So, the mango juice could be named after either Neymar or Alves or any popular Brazilian footballer, obviously because of its yellow hue. Argentina, England and Germany also have juices, burgers and sandwiches named for their star footballers.

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The craze doesn’t stop there. Some fans even repaint their houses ahead of the Cup, the most popular shades being yellow and green for Brazil and light blue and white for Argentina fans.
This year, the unputdownable fans even succeeded in putting Kerala on thefootballing map, catching the attention of world governing body Fifa and the football associations of Brazil and Argentina with giant cutouts of Argentine great Lionel Messi and Brazil star Neymar Jr. that were installed at a small hamlet by the Pullavoor river in Kozhikode. It all boils down to fans’ desire to outdo rival teams’ supporters – after the 30-ft cutout of Messi followed by the 35-ft cutout of Neymar, fans of Cristiano Ronaldo installed a 50-ft cutout of the Portugal legend.

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The rivalry is also played out vicariously in the football arena, thanks to the “mini World Cup tournaments” that are organised to coincide with the actual event. At least 10 to 15 tournaments will be held in Malappuram alone, featuring all the 32 participating teams of the real World Cup. For major teams like Brazil, Argentina, France, England, etc, the respective fan clubs form a team comprising local players. For the teams without fan clubs, organisers manage to find a sponsor to back a squad.
“The sponsors are mostly small shopkeepers. But they are more than happy to back a team, which may cost them a month of earnings, only because football is everything for them,” says Jaffer Khan, a football historian and the author of the book ‘Panthu Paranja Malappuram Kisa’, which narratesthe history football in Kerala.

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But the usual fanfare notwithstanding, this time does feel different. For Keralites, it’s like this World Cup is being played in their own backyard.
That’s because Qatar has a large expat Keralite population and many fans from the state are travelling to the Gulf country for the event. More than 2,500 youngsters from Kerala have signed a three-month contract to work as volunteers for the World Cup, sources said, adding that they are being paid up to Rs1. 5 lakh for the stint apart from free food and accommodation.
Many of these youngsters have jobs in Kerala but have either taken leave or quit to be a part of the football carnival. Among them is Sulfeekar Ali, an assistant physical education professor at a college at Elayoor in Malappuram. He has taken leave without pay to work as a security officer for the World Cup. “I was selected due to my previous stints with various football tournaments in India. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and I didn’t want to miss out,” he said.

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Similar is the sentiment up the western coast in Goa, which is sending a sizeable contingent of fans to Qatar. As football enthusiast Conrad Barreto says, “it’s just a short flight from here, shorter than what it would take to travel within the country”.
Among the unprecedented number of fans are footballers, administrators, priests and even MLAs.
“I keep talking to people and almost everyone seems to be coming to Qatar for the World Cup,” says Doha-based John de Sa, who has been active with the Goan Social Workers Qatar group, trying to help as many fans as possible find accommodation.

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“Why would anyone miss the chance of being at the World Cup when it’s so close?” asks former India coach Armando Colaco, who will be attending his first World Cup. “There is nothing like it.”
Bars, restaurants and halls in Goa are all gearing up to screen matches. Like Kerala, the holiday hub is also divided over football loyalties. There are Brazil and Argentina fans aplenty while some root for England, too, but the emotional favourite for many appears to be Portugal.
Goa was a Portuguese colony for 450 years until it was united with India in 1961. “When it comes to football, Goans are drawn towards Portugal at major football championships,” says Jonathan de Sousa, vice president of the Goa Football Association. “The Portuguese played a major role in popularising football in Goa. The football association and the football league were both started during Portuguese rule in Goa.

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