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Pius, Bose, Dey…
Jadon Sancho’s ‘Baganisation’ was done in less than a minute, but a fairly length prelude was perhaps the quirkier part. On Monday afternoon in a rain-drenched Kolkata two gentlemen apparently in their late fifties checked in at Olypub on Park Street. They started talking about the U-17 World Cup. Now, in the lead-up to the tournament, Kolkatans were enthusiastic about it but not overexcited – the city has been hosting international matches and superstars since the 1960s. But England have successfully wooed the locals with their beautiful football against Chile. And Sancho, with two goals and an assist, has become an instant hit in this football-crazy city.
Somehow, many elderly Mohun Bagan and East Bengal fans, who didn’t grow up on a steady diet of European club football on telly, still reminisce about their respective club legends while watching an exciting overseas talent. The two gentlemen at the Olypub turned out to be Bagan supporters and Sancho’s ‘Baganisation’ began. “He runs like Bidesh (Bose), dribbles like Krishanu (Dey) and scores like (Xavier) Pius. I think his ball control is like Majid Baskar,” said one of them. His friend gave a scornful reminder, “Ah, Majid never played for Mohun Bagan…”
— Shamik Chakrabarty in Kolkata
What do foreign teams do when they have a day to spare before a game? Intense practice yes, but also a bit of shopping of course. The New Caledonia team hunted down souvenir shops in Guwahati in pursuit of memories and gifts to take back home. Pearls, handicrafts, Assamese shawls and such traditional items from the state. Some fans realise they are the international football unit, and the team oblige with a few selfies too. New Caledonia is a small island nation, an overseas territory of France at the moment, and are soaking up the local atmosphere.
The coach Dominique Wacalie is just 35, the youngest coach in the tournament, and who gave a stirring at the half-time when France was leading by 6-0. Les Nouvelles, a newspaper back home, carried the quote from the goalkeeper Une Kecine, who cramped up so badly in the end in the match against France, even taking a 8-minute injury time, but carried on bravely. “I gave six goals but the coach talked a lot about pride and said we had 45 minutes still to show our qualities.” That they did: they conceded one more but also scored a goal in that second half. It was time for some souvenir hunting before the training session. Monday had started with him asking someone at the breakfast table how to say thanks in Hindi, and offered ‘dhanyawad’ to the Indian staff at the hotel, and later at the mall.
— Sriram Veera in Guwahati
Montenegro, Costa Rica’s star
Guinea took an astounding 42 shots – 14 on goal and 9 corner kicks, with 9 being blocked. The undisputed star of the day was Costa Rican goalkeeper Ricardo Montenegro. An understudy to Real Madrid’s Keylor Navas, Ricardo trains with the country’s top club Deportivo Saprissa. After he cramped the Germans three days ago, it was now the turn of the big-built, physical Guineans to launch wave after waves of attacks. Ricardo arced and curved his back for the high balls fisting them out, and was sure-footed at the near post, defanging the rebounds. He aces the one-on-one situations – never mind the size and reputation of the forwards. He changed direction last minute to punch out Bangoura’s angled bicycle kick, but couldn’t keep out the ensuing Fadje Toure close ranger in the 2-2 draw. But even if Costa Rica have been found wanting in stringing together moves in the last third, the one-man wall of Ricardo Montenegro is leaving behind a legendary trail in Goa of denied goals.
— Shivani Naik in Margao
Another Remo sings
The man with wild braids and muscles rippling out of a yellow-green vest did nothing but din when Guinea played Iran. Noisy and amongst Guinea’s biggest rabble rousers in the stands, Remo attracted the cameras often. Then Guinea would lose 3-1 and Remo would change his lilt against Costa Rica on Tuesday. Alongwith the raucous chants of Bimbiso from the 40-odd travelling fans, Remo would get lyrical and switch to Guinea’s coastal Susu language for a part reggae-part R&B beat, with long ballads sung to the Syli nationale (National elephants). Another soft hymn was the Syli solai (the elephants are in the ground), while a Allez Allez didn’t miss a tune even as Guinea twice trailed. The travelling supporters are part of a government funded delegation.
“We’ve come from far away – capital Conakry to Dubai to Mumbai to Goa. We were very angry that we lost to Iran, but then the coach sat us down and assured us that the children were tired last match but would not give up. We were told our team is good, now we demand to see it,” said Sipiya, a writer who pens his narratives in Susu.
Goans found a natural affinity to Iran last Saturday after the Guinean din. “That’s ok, we like India. Nobody show us we are dark since we come. I don’t see racism here in Goa. Everyone equal,” Sipiya said. Emo had struck his next tune meantime, saying, “No English. Only Music.”
— Shivani Naik in Margao
Living on a prayer
The day before the Niger team embarked on the 20-hour journey to Kochi —the longest the entire contingent had in their lives — they were taken to the biggest mosque in Niamey to get the blessings of the Imams. An entire evening was spent in prayers and other rituals. The imams blessed them and had just one piece of advise to them: “Pray five times a day and you’ll have a happy tournament.” The boys have steadfastly adhered to the advice, though it means taking the lift, and sometimes climbing up, to the 10th floor and praying on the open terrace. So after their victory against North Korea, they called the imams back home and thanked them. Now, after being thrashed by Spain, they need divine intervention to qualify for the knockout stages.
— Sandip G in Kochi
No Wenger, no cry
While his neighbour in the stands brandished and waved the Indian flag during the match between the hosts and Colombia, an errant fan had jotted two words on his poster: Wenger Out!