FIFA World Cup 2018: Here's what Mumbai's football fans feel about the game's biggest stage
Ahead of the FIFA World Cup, we checked the pulse of football fans in the city to find out how they feel about football's biggest stage
We remember the 1998 FIFA World Cup as if it were yesterday. We were die-hard Brazil fans back then. They were playing France. Friends had gathered at home to watch it together. The battle lines were clearly drawn. Shouts of agony at a missed opportunity were interspersed with appreciative clapping for a slick pass. Then, Zinedine Zidane scored with a header. And a little later, he scored again. We were crestfallen. How could Brazil put up such an insipid performance? Why was Luis Ronaldo a shadow of his usual self? Why can't our insensitive friends who supported France rub the loss in our face a little less? These are the questions we were left with in the middle of the night, along with new-found admiration for Zidane, who later became the greatest playmaker of his generation.
Now, it's almost time to get the popcorn out again. The World Cup returns next week, this time in the challenging conditions of Russia. So before the ball gets rolling, both literally and metaphorically, we spoke to a cross-section of people to find out what their excitement levels are like, who they think will win this year and — the million-dollar question — when we'll see India on football's biggest stage.
The die-hard Indian team fan
Indian captain Sunil Chhetri's viral video, in which he made an impassioned plea for people to watch games at stadiums, moved many people into action, including Vishal Bhutani. And now, the 20-year-old is gearing up for the bigger tournament. "But my favourite team, The Netherlands, couldn't make it this time. So, since they are the underdogs, I'll support Iceland," Bhutani says, adding, "I think it will take 25 years for India to qualify."
Prediction: I'd be happy if Argentina wins.
The female footballers
City-based football coach Kimberly Miranda is sad that her favourite team, The Netherlands, didn't qualify this year. A loyal fan, Miranda isn't supporting another team but her guess is that Germany might go home victorious. Miranda feels Spain might be the next best team.
"Today, the crowds in India are drawn to World Cup matches too. With right marketing and support, Indian football can also prosper. Look at the crowds at the last two India games after Sunil Chhetri's appeal, the stadiums were packed!" she exclaims.
Bhagyashree Dalvi, state and national level football player, says, "I support Germany, I love their game. I am excited to see them play. They keep the ball, play to their advantage, and though their team doesn't have big players like Messi or Ronaldo, but they play as a team." Dalvi feels Spain will play the finals opposite Germany. She is quite positive about the growth of the sport in India, "Football in India is developing, not that fast, but it is positive, for girls as well. The recent win of the men's team against Kenya was a morale boost. However, since India doesn't qualify for the World Cup matches, there is a larger following for the league matches and their clubs."
A friendly match between Austria and Germany
Prediction: Germany vs Spain for the final.
The professional player
Steven Dias — known as the "David Beckham of India" for the long passes he made for the national team — makes an interesting point about 21st century World Cup viewers. "I don't think interest levels have dropped because of the EPL or Spanish League. In fact, there are more people who watch football now than ever before. I am constantly surprised about how much college kids know about transfers and things like that. Back in the day, we hardly knew any of the footballers apart from a few big names. But now, these kids know all the players. So, there is no lack of interest," he reasons. He also says that he watches the games with his fellow players whenever he can, gathering at one of their homes. And he adds that the day isn't far when India will make it to the World Cup. "The way we are playing right now, I think it's more a matter of we 'should' qualify than 'if' we will qualify some day," he ends.
Prediction: I am a big fan of Cristiano Ronaldo. So I'd say that Portugal might win it.
EPL fan club members
Those old enough will remember the time when the English Premier League (EPL) didn't have a stronghold over the country's football-watching audience. Fans, in fact, were more or less starved of any proper televised action until the World Cup came along every four years. Then, the EPL changed the game. Suddenly, there was a generation of youngsters emulating the likes of David Beckham and then Christiano Ronaldo. But what sort of passion do they have for the World Cup, which is all about supporting different countries, and not clubs? Kartik Menda (in pic with French footballer Robert Pirès) of Mumbai's Arsenal Fan Club concedes that the EPL is higher in the pecking order for him and other members. "Being a club fan, I don't really support any country in particular. But being a follower of the game, I still watch the World Cup just because I want to see some good football. And the fact that I don't support any one team doesn't really matter because, see, say someone supports Argentina, does that mean he won't watch any of the matches featuring 31 other nations? No, it doesn't," he tells us, adding, "I think it will take at least 40 more years," when we ask him how long it will take for India to be good enough to qualify.
Prediction: Germany might win it. They have a strong team, and are also better suited to the conditions in Russia than the South Americans.
Travellers to have a ball
According to travel market place ixigo, Russia has recorded a 23 per cent month-on-month increase in flight searches from India during the tournament. Visa-free entry for people with World Cup tickets, from 10 days before the first game and up to 10 days after the last game, has possibly also helped boost the numbers. Around 48 per cent of Indians travelling for the tournament are planning solo trips, 16 per cent with families and 12 per cent as couples. Favourable climatic conditions have made travellers opt to stay for 8.5 to 10 days to also discover places near the host cities.
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