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The Brazilian team arrived in Goa on Wednesday with zero fanfare. A couple of the ground-staff did at least acknowledge the fact that they had landed, even if only to each other, but the rest just went about their business like they didn’t care. If anything the Niger team in their bright, fluorescent travel jerseys, with a couple of their team staff in traditional attire, turned more heads.
The young Brazilians, meanwhile, decked in their staid blue uniforms anonymously walked out and got into their bus. Incidentally, as I tried taking a picture of them in the bus, a couple of them flashed their thumbs and waved through the window empathetically like how famous people do when they spot a “fan”.
The Brazilians’ welcome somehow didn’t quite live up to expectations. After all, ever since the under-17 World Cup has commenced, the rhetoric around has been that Goa will shake off its ‘susegad’ (lethargy in local tongue) with regards to the tournament only when Brazil get here.
“Wait till Brazil come to Goa. The stadium will be full, you’ll see men, the tournament will come alive,” has been on every local’s lips even as Goa has continued to turn a sleepy eye to the World Cup. They’ve almost said it with some guilt, as if they’re slightly embarrassed about not having shown up for the event in terms of creating a buzz in what is considered football’s haven in India — even if every Bengali in Kolkata will disagree with that assessment.
Ground officials insist that Brazil’s league match against Niger at Fatorda on Friday is a sell-out, which if true would be the first time the venue will not see a lot of empty seats. Even Germany’s match against Iran was said to be a sell-out, but only around 8,000 turned up in the 16,200-seater stadium.
Brazil coach Carlos Amadeu did talk about being excited to be back in Goa a year after he had brought
the same team, though with teenaged superstar Vinicius Junior in the mix, here for the BRICS tournament. The press conference room at least seemed pretty packed as Amadeu noted the many similarities between his homeland and Goa —“the beaches, the Portuguese language and Vasco da Gama”.
Amadeu is sure to have spotted a vendor selling Brazilian flags around the corner as he was driven into Fatorda.
“It’s a pleasure for us to be back in Goa. We felt really welcomed the last time we were here. We have very positive memories about Goa because we won the BRICS Cup. We look forward to another good reception tomorrow,” he said. According to some, the fact that Goa has already witnessed the likes of Paulinho, Lincoln and Alan Guimaraes just 12 months ago might take the lacquer of Friday’s match too.
Brazil indulged in a low-key practice session at the Utorda Ground where the focus was strictly on indirect free-kicks and variations of them. A few kids from the nearby villages were allowed inside to watch the practice with their fortunate fathers accompanying them. A small group sat holding a Brazilian flag and towards the end of the session even screamed in support of the team that they are expected to throw their weight behind on Friday.
With Brazil not scheduled to return during the knockout stages of the World Cup, this could well be the highest point of the event for Goa.
Symbolically almost, Brazil practiced with a two-storey house painted in Portugal colours – with a massive Portuguese Football Federation crest painted down the middle – in the background. Pointing at the house, a local cop piped in with his own explanation on why he thinks Brazil still remain the second-favourite choice for most Goans.
“If this was Portugal instead, the whole village would have been here. The entire stadium would be full. People would have waited outside the airport. Brazil is good, but not Portugal,” he says.
The Brazilians to their credit did put on quite an exhibition despite the low-key nature of the session, showing off their natural flair with the ball at their feet. They left the venue with Victor Bobsin tossing grapes at each of his teammates, who were supposed to catch it in their mouth. And like with everything Brazilian, they managed to make even this random act look rather graceful. Now to see whether their flair and grace can actually bring Goa to life. It’s about time.