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A few months ago, when Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu visited Kochi for technical inspection, he was struck by a happy coincidence. Wherever he and his committee travelled, they was surprised by men cheering him in yellow jerseys. Not the canary yellow, but a lighter, lozenge shade of it, that of the Kochi-based Indian Super League team Kerala Blasters. He went home and told his boys, “They too have a team wearing a yellow similar to us. And I felt they’re empathetic towards us. So don’t worry about the home support.” But even in his wildest imagination, he would not have thought that the fan base in Kochi for Brazil exceeds that of their home club.
Since they landed, Amadeu must have more than acquainted himself with the frantic support extended to his team, wherever and whenever it practised. So before what was touted as the biggest match of the World Cup, just to reassure the boys and soothe their nerves, he told them: “Boys, we are playing at home.” The coach’s words might have ringed in them when they walked out into the stadium for the warm-up.
It was nearly an hour before the scheduled start of the match, the spectators were still trickling in, and the ground was half-empty. But they would have been blind to miss the yellowness that had wrapped the stadium. Or the deafening applause they set off. They must have been like “wow”, for several times zones away, in a land they’d never set their foot in, they have garnered such maddening support. There could have been a sense of disbelief, when the crowd pressed their hands on the Brazil crest embroidered on their cheap replica jerseys, their faces grave, when the loudspeaker blared Brazil’s national anthem, Hino Nacional Brasileiro.
Maybe, the whole home feeling might have overwhelmed the teens. For in the first 10 minutes of the game, they resembled not the team that later beat Spain 2-1, or enthralled the crowd with its slick passing, twinkling feet or mesmerising bursts, but a bunch of nervous wrecks, clueless of their positions and tactics, being rolled over by an effervescent Spain.
The defence — the coach keeps on insisting that their defence begins with the forwards — was in utter shambles, giving Spain’s forwards enough room and space to manoeuvre. They could have scored as early as the third minute, they definitely did in the fifth minute. The sparse red-smeared section of the crowd was in raptures, while most of the stadium interminably muted. Amadeu admitted his boys were “nervoso”.
But he knew his boys would recover fast. “One good thing with the boys is that they are so confident that they believe they can do miracles,” he later said. It didn’t need a miracle, never did the match even meander into the line of the miraculous. While several Brazilian teams in the last decade have been prone to bursts of moodiness and petulance, shipping in goals after they concede early, the youngest of the brigade showed rare fight, or rather more commendably, fight without betraying any urgency or despondency, making the recovery look seamlessly effortless. They played the rest of the match like it was a high school evening-out with their chums.
It was this streak that impressed the coach, more than their energy and imagination, though these were the two facets that raptured the crowd. Their play conformed to everything the crowd, the Brazil-philes among them, had heard, read and seen on telly and Youtube. It was their quintessential brand of football. what once inspired Italian filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini to coin the word “poetic soccer”, a scheme of football based on dribbling and non-linear opening of unforeseen spaces, as opposed to the linearly responsible “prose soccer” prevalent in Europe.
Playing to gallery
Central to them were the two pacy men on the wings — Paulinho and Brenner — flickering down the flanks in a blur and cutting into the narrowest of spaces. Midfielder Marcos Antonio was the regista — the deep-lying playmaker, the conductor of the orchestra. The commanding Lincoln thrust past the defensive maze, only to be let down by his own uncharacteristic clumsiness. As they found their collective bearings, tricking, winkling and bobbling past puzzled Spanish legs, the crowd rediscovered the full pelt of their throat-boxes, rendering the atmosphere with a hostile indomitability, the same antagonism ISL clubs endure at Blasters’ home matches.
Much before Lincoln, who the legendary Zico considers “devilishly talented”, scored the equaliser, a neat rather than spectacular goal, the crowd had developed an affection for him. He reciprocated the love by running towards the enclosure that had the loudest fans and knelt on the ground. Needless to say, it gave them the licence, and the power pill, to be even louder on what was a toxically humid evening.
Buoyed, Brazil began to boss over the already-tired Spaniards. Between Lincoln’s goal and Paulinho’s eventual winner, they threatened to score several times, let down primarily by their over-enthusiasm to get their name on the score sheet. At the wink of half-time, Paulinho, a very modern No. 7, slotted in the winner, his finish as languid as the build-up. A well-weighted cross from Marcos Antonio perfectly bisected a pair of defenders, before Paulinho gathered the ball with the deftest of first touches, and belted it past the goalkeeper.
The second half, though, was anti-climatic, as the searing humidity began to tell on the players and Brazil followed a safer approach. Even the crowd couldn’t maintain its energy levels. Or maybe, it was saved for the last second of the match, when the whole stadium erupted like a yellow-fumed volcano. Just like it’s back in Brazil.
“Obrigado,” the team yelled at the crowd. No one among them would have understood the Portuguese word for thank you. But they shouted back: “Obrigado”.