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Football Fever in Kolkata

India has never played in the Football World Cup and the sport struggles to attract anything even remotely similar to the enthusiasm which cricket, the national obsession is universally greeted with across the country. Yet every four years Kolkata, a city of 5 million people, erupts in World Cup fever with a spontaneous flurry of excitement in the narrow lanes and public spaces of the teeming city. Here, football matters and people inevitably support one of the two dominant city teams - Mohun Bagan or East Bengal football clubs. The former is mostly supported by Hindu Kolkatans while the latter counts the city's minority Muslim population amongst its most ardent supporters. Derbies between the two archi-rivals regularly draw over 70,000 people.
Yet above and beyond local rivalries, two giants among footballing nations - Brazil and Argentina - have become the de facto nations to support in Kolkata in the absence of an Indian team bestriding the international footballing stage.

Locals gather in public squares and clubs (community centres) to follow every move, every goal and every victory or defeat of their favourite South American team. Yellow and Green clad 'Samba Warriors' cheer the stars of the Brazilian team while a few streets away, white and blue attired 'Albicelestes' are on the edge of their seats during Argentina matches. Football is closely associated with a local sense of national pride ever since Mohun Bagan, made up of native players, famously beat the East Yorkshire Regiment football team in 1911 to take the Indian Football Association (IFA) cup.

For many, Argentina and Brazil represent two poorer, less developed nations which have dominated football throughout the 20th century and have prevailed over European countries with far greater resources at their disposal. In light of India's poor performance in international football, these two teams embody a plucky sense of perseverance and sporting prowess in the face of economic imbalance.

The Football World Cup 2014, played across Brazil, has been no different. Crowds of people have decked their alleys and streets in the national colours of either of the two teams and have adorned the crumbling walls of local houses and shops with football themed murals.

Brazil's shocking departure from the competition at the hands of a rampant German team scoring a humiliating 7 goals to Brazil's single late goal had hordes of Brazil supporters despondently dismantle their shrine-like public viewing venues while Argentina's victory against the Netherlands in the semi final brought jubilation to parts of Kolkata.

Atul Loke has spent much of the past month in Bengal's great city, celebrating and commiserating with local fans as the fortunes of their teams wax and wane. He will be shooting the final - Argentina vs Germany - on 13 July on the streets of the city.
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