Retrieving the ball amid fear of snakes
The Niger team ended up losing a ball during their practice session after it sailed over the fence on the far end of the Benaulim Stadium. Their requests to the local volunteers to go get it back though were immediately turned down. They were told that snakes had often been observed in that field and that the volunteers weren’t prepared to risk their lives for the sake of a ball. So, a few of the Niger team officials took matters into their own hands and began storming out of the ground past the heavy security, who stood bemused and a tad amused. The local liaison manager did try his best to convince them about the risks of this operation but the officials had made up their mind. They wanted the ball back. The teams, after all, do have to return every single practice ball to FIFA at the end of the tournament or pay for those that get lost. Eventually, it took the Goa police personnel to brave the snake threat to bring the ball back. The entire Niger team gathered near the fence to witness the successful rescue operation and were relieved to have their ball back.
Niger going bananas
A day before Niger’s last match in Kochi, the players nervously asked their manager if they could take them out for shopping to pick some memorabilia. The manager, after consulting with the coach and other support staff, consented but with a condition that they should complete the shopping in just an hour. So the manager took them to an upcountry mall in the locality and told them to assemble at a particular point. To his surprise, they returned in just 20 minutes, with big polythene covers of Kerala’s speciality, banana chips. “We are stocked well enough to open a stall, back home. Everybody bought at least five kgs,” said their media manager Aboubacar Malik. However, the coach has ordered them to not even touch the packets until all their matches are over. Now, the support staff are worried what they would end up buying in Goa. Fenni perhaps!
Leave us alone, please !
The other day, a local daily carried the picture of Villarreal scout Alejandro in Kochi. Livid, he requested the FIFA not disclose his identity to anybody. He says he’s so wary of journalists that he has to start putting on disguises. “We are just like undercover agents. We operate stealthily because the competition is so high and other clubs will sense our movements,” he complains. The stakes are even higher when one of the teams involved is Brazil, when at least half a dozen scouts of big clubs are snooping around.
The Brazilians were not only impressed by the support they are getting from Kochi but also the similarity of their cuisine. Like the locals here, they like the carbo-rich Tapioca, though of course the preparation differs. The story goes that Tapioca was brought to Kerala by the Portuguese from Brazil. The chefs didn’t miss the opportunity to wow them with the connection. The players, apparently, wanted to taste the Kerala style Tapioca, especially the one steamed and mixed with crushed coconut shreds, which though the Brazilian dieticians disapproved. However, the chefs have promised to sneak a few dumplings of Tapioca if they return here for the pre-quarters. Maybe, with two regular accompaniments—toddy and fish.
Celebrate the moment
The North Korean coach fumed: “The Brazilians take a lot of time to celebrate their goals.” Paulinho and Co ate up three minutes after their second goal. Their celebratory routines are not rehearsed or practised, but entirely spontaneous and hence difficult to attribute it to any specific genre. Unrehearsed it might, but there is an arresting rhythm and cadence. “Not even we know what we end up doing. Everything happens just at that moment,” says Paulinho. The celebrations are not just confined to the players on the ground. Even the substitutes warming up at the opposite side will high five and dance among themselves. “We are very emotional creatures,” chuckles coach Carlos Amadeu.
While the rest of his team sauntered back towards the bus, stopping in between for a selfie or two, one of the Iranian goalkeepers had to stay back briefly at the Utorda Stadium. A geriatric gentleman decked formally and nattily was taking his impressive shoes off and preparing to take a couple of strikes at goal. The overawed team management, meanwhile, stood on the sidelines cheering his every move. The man in question was Mehdi Taj, the president of the Iran Football Federation. And while his first kick actually trickled past the goalie, the second barely reached the post. It was a day after the Nojavanan had produced one of the most famous victories in their country’s football history, age-group no bar, beating Germany 4-0. And there was an obvious buzz about their practice session, one where the focus was mostly on set-pieces. And even president Taj was soaking in the celebratory mood and even making his presence felt. “I arrived in the country yesterday and they produced such a victory on the same day. They’ll now keep winning and win the Cup,” he said.
Charge wisely or pay
Foods and beverages at sports venues in India are sometimes notoriously overpriced. But the Coca-Cola food stall at the Salt Lake Stadium has a stern warning for its vendors. This is what the notice at the stall-face reads: “Overpricing of any food/beverage item is a punishable offence. Rs 2,000 penalty would be imposed and accreditation card would be cancelled.” For further confirmation, the stall is selling all items as per the rate card.