Brazil-Argentina mad Kolkata heaves a sigh of relief

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Kolkata, June 28 (IANS) Football-drunk Kolkata is upbeat and relieved with Brazil following Argentina into the pre-quarter finals after a shaky start in the ongoing 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia.

Since 1977, when city football giants Mohun Bagan hosted Pele’s New York Cosmos at the iconic Eden Gardens, Brazil has always found a home here.

That changed in 1986 when Diego Maradona’s virtuoso displays helped Argentina win the World Cup and polarised supporters in the city.

Over the past three decades, during every edition of the World Cup, the green and yellow of Brazil and white and blue of Argentina are seen fluttering in great numbers in the eastern metropolis, and every locality has its own allegiance.

This time, both Lionel Messi’s Argentina and Neymar da Silva’s Brazil got off to stuttering starts, drawing their opening matches. But both teams put up improved shows in their subsequent two games, to make it to the knockouts.

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“The passion for the sport here would have been killed a little for sure had either of these two teams not made it to the round of 16,” former India striker Shyam Thapa told IANS.

“I remember when Pele had come here in 1977, how the football crazy people of Kolkata had welcomed him, and since then Brazil found a second home here. Maradona then mesmerised audiences here with his superb show in the Mexico World Cup in 1986,” he added.

Every street in the city virtually has a Brazil or Argentina flag hanging from terraces or cables. And if you spot a Brazil flag, Argentina won’t be far away.

Crackers were burst in the busy streets of Baghajatin and Deshapriya Park in South Kolkata after Messi scored that majestic first goal against Nigeria on Tuesday night.

There were parades after Rojo scored the winner as Nigeria had equalised from the spot in the second half. Argentina also needed Croatia to win against Iceland and the former did score a 2-1 triumph to top Group D.

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“We don’t know what we would have done had we crashed out in the group stages. I am on my way to Russia and will watch Argentina versus France now,” Uttam Saha, the 56-year-old Argentina Football Fan Club secretary, said.

“But since I have already spent so much I anyway would have had to go even if we did not make the cut. I would have then gone to Russia with some hidden tears in my eyes,” he added.

The next day, Neymar’s Brazil had to avoid defeat in order to stay in the competition they have won a record five times.

Paulinho and Thiago Silva scored goals against Serbia in each half to ensure their passage into the round of 16, and supporters say they could not wait for the final whistle to hit back at Argentina counterparts’ taunts after their newfound confidence.

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“They qualified by the skin of their teeth. The team is full of problems and they point fingers at us. We have been consistent and are peaking at the right time,” a supporter of a Brazil fan club in North Kolkata’s Girish Park said.

“After the game yesterday, we had a big altercation with the Argentina fans and it went on till dawn,” he added.

Defending champions Germany, who also have their support base here, though on a much smaller scale, were knocked out on Wednesday after losing 0-2 to South Korea.

While their flags are being taken down at many places across the city, Brazil and Argentina colours are flying high, not crossing each other’s paths but staying in close proximity.

–IANS

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