FIFA U-17 World Cup: For romantic Kolkata, Brazil-England semi-final a Puja bonus | fifa-u17-world-cup-2017 | Hindustan Times
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FIFA U-17 World Cup: For romantic Kolkata, Brazil-England semi-final a Puja bonus

The decision to shift the FIFA U-17 World Cup semi-final between Brazil and England to the Salt Lake stadium in Kolkata has lifted the mood of the city, which recently celebrated Diwali and Kali Puja.

fifa u17 world cup 2017 Updated: Oct 24, 2017 17:25 IST
Dhiman Sarkar
Football fans in Kolkata lapped up the frenzy as they stand in queues to collect their ‘gift’. which is tickets for the FIFA U-17 World Cup semi-final between Brazil and England that was shifted from Guwahati.
Football fans in Kolkata lapped up the frenzy as they stand in queues to collect their ‘gift’. which is tickets for the FIFA U-17 World Cup semi-final between Brazil and England that was shifted from Guwahati.(Samir Jana/HT PHOTO)

For the city that can’t have enough of this under-17 World Cup, it just got better when a Brazil-England semi-final was blown their way by wind and rain. It also meant there are more people who benefit from yesterday than The Beatles.

The weekend after Diwali and Kali Puja may have made Monday blues seem worse than usual but the mood had lifted by evening when the official announcement confirmed rumours that swirled all day. Online ticket sales started at 8:30pm but by 8:40pm, 95,000 had logged in.

“After two hours, I was behind some 53,000 people and I got out,” said a learning consultant with IBM. Most were more persevering. ‘What’s your number’ began doing the rounds on WhatsApp and BlackBerry groups.

“I got mine after four hours of waiting, around 12:30am. The process of collecting them from the stadium on Tuesday morning took me less than 30 minutes,” said Jayanta Mukherjee who lives in Salt Lake.

As people started exiting the queue around midnight, those working graveyard shifts hit pay dirt. “I came home after midnight and saw I was behind 1600 people. By the time, I changed and had dinner, my turn had come,” said A Gangopadhyay who has bought four tickets.

For the city, whose connect with football is richer than the rest of India put together, attendances of over 50,000 for group matches and the pre-quarter final wasn’t surprising. The turnout of 66,613 for the Brazil-Germany quarter-final last Sunday for a cauldron that can hold 66,687 for this World Cup though was.

“In terms of organisation and atmosphere, this city will get a full 10. This is such a huge experience for my boys,” said Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu. “I have never played in front of so many people. I would look forward to coming here,” said Brazil starlet Paulinho.

He meant Saturday’s final. Fate ordained he would come ‘home’ earlier. On Pele’s birthday as it turned out. How about that for a coincidence?

It was Pele’s visit in 1977 with New York Cosmos to play Mohun Bagan that deepened Kolkata’s bond with Brazil. Diego Maradona was still nine years from making a serious dent into the Brazil support base here, the Internet and cable television even further away. When in the time of black-and-white sport pages and grainy images, ‘O Rei’ king made Eden Gardens his only stop in India, it made Kolkata feel like royalty.

When Pele came next, in 2014 he said he didn’t remember much about the visit. Kolkata though had never forgotten it. The connection got stronger when Jose Barreto became Mohun Bagan’s heartbeat. The first of many Brazilian footballers making a living here, Barreto loved the city, a big part of which loved him back fiercely. The Sunday in 2012 when he signed off for Mohun Bagan had 40,000 at Salt Lake stadium wishing him well.

Maradona and Messi now mean the city gets split between the ‘Albiceleste’ and ‘Selecao’ during men’s World Cups but then, Argentina aren’t even here. Nothing to distract from supporting Brazil therefore. On Wednesday, England would have an equal number of flair players and the Premiership has spawned generations of England supporters but for many, Brazil stay the last of the football romantics.