New Delhi, June 9 (IANS) In just five days, the 2018 FIFA World Cup will kick off in Moscow’s Luzhniki stadium with a 80,000 capacity crowd. While defending champions Germany may be favourites, India’s footbal crazy crowd will be cheering for almost 32 countries including other favourites such as Spain, France, Argentina and Brazil among others.
“Understandably, Spain is regarded as a front-runner in Russia. We will, by any standard, field quite an impressive squad in Russia,” Spain Ambassodor José R. Barañano said, when asked since Spain is a serious contender in the upcoming Russia World Cup and how is he looking at it in the Indian context.
There is an advantage situation for Indian audience because timings as most of the matches are in the evening only like 5.30 PM, 8.30 PM slots unlike previous World Cup of early morning and late night timings.
“Be they in Spain or elsewhere, Spanish football fans are excited about their national team. Those living now in India will gather with some friends and watch each and every one of the matches. They can count themselves lucky,” Baranano said adding “The time lag of India with European Russia is just 2 1/2 hours. World cup matches will be broadcast in India at very convenient times. More than anything else, this will be convenient for the millions of soccer lovers in India.”
The Spanish Ambassdor in an email communication further said: “It is to be noted that Asia is a rapidly growing audience for international soccer. Spain’s La Liga is now weighing the pros and cons of changing the timing of some matches, in an attempt to meet expectations of its global audience, notably, its Asian audience.”
Asked whether the passing game is the best strategy for the Spanish team, he said: “I honestly believe that there is not a perfect style. You should adopt the one that suits your players best.
“In recent times, in Spain we have raised very good midfielders that foster this style of keeping the ball possesion, and it is true that we have been very successful with it. Maybe in the future we will have to change it, but up to now, the possesion style is our landmark.”
The World Cup has always generated a lot of interest here though India is yet to qualify for it.
Asked further that given the keen interest among Indian audiences, were there any plans to promote Spanish football leagues like La Liga here, he said: “As I have just said, there is growing awareness in Spain about the swelling appetite for soccer in India. And also about what this means for Spain, for India, for our bilateral relations, and for the sport itself.”
“However much everyone agrees on the huge potential of sport as a tool of cultural diplomacy, the connection between sport and diplomacy has so far gone largely unnoticed. With varying degrees of success, governments are striving to tap this potential. They are seeking ways for the magic of international soccer to skim the reputation of their countries.”
Elaborating further he said “Spain does know of the importance of sports-diplomacy. The 1992 Olympic Games gave Barcelona its final push into the elite or world-class cities. Real Madrid’s recent European achievements are significantly contributing to the international status of the Madrid. India is a priority country for La Liga. I feel an immense respect for what La liga’s office in India is doing. As a result of its relentless efforts, exchanges between India and Spain are growing. Its focus is at the grassroots level. That’s the right approach. Soccer is not just a good show that can be seen on TV or live. It’s much more than that. It is a precious tool to develop physical and emotional skills. La liga is doing an excellent job in India.”
Spain’s first encounter in Russia is with Portual on June 18 and the match is crucial for both teams as they are serious Cup contenders.
Asked how he rates the football scene in India as compared to Spain, the Ambassodor said: “When it comes to soccer, let’s be frank, India is just a new arrival. Soccer was virtually non-existent a few years ago. But what I see is very encouraging. Soccer is gaining popularity. Particularly among the young. Today’s pastime is tomorrow’s passion. What is just needed is an Indian global soccer star.”
“In the meantime, India is getting familiar with the game and developing its own style. It is not fair to put compare) Indian soccer — Indian soccer, Spanish soccer… It’s not a fair comparison. Spain’s modern soccer is the result of a decades-long tradition. Again, India has just started. How can anyone dare to compare cricket in India and cricket in Spain?”
Switching over to cricket, he said: “Believe it or not, cricket is making its first small steps in Spain. Despite its late start, what I see now is soccer developing pretty quickly in India. No doubt about it: sooner rather than later will be contributing first-rate players to the game. And then, the appeal of soccer on Indian the middle-classes will be irresistible.”
When asked who his favourite football stars are apart from Spanish team he said: “I personally believe that (French forward Kylian) Mbappe is going to be the next big thing. If he keeps working hard, he will take over from players like (Lionel) Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo in a few years.”
Asked if a special screening would be held if Spain reaches the final stage he said:
“Let the party begin first. We will then see how the game plays out! Any country that will participate in Russia’s World Cup has to be as wary as it can. If only because it knows what it means to confront such outstanding teams. Be that as it may, you should have no doubt that if Spain reaches the semifinals, let alone the final, we will get together our Spanish and Indian friends and have a good time.”
( is a senior Delhi-based freelance journalist. He can be contacted at [email protected])