10:46 pm - Wednesday November 4, 2015

Football Fever Grips Namma City as World Cup Draws Closer

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BANGALORE: Cricket may reign supreme in the country, but in Bangalore, football is not far behind. Just last year, Bangalore got its first home club ‘Bengaluru FC’ with stars like Sunil Chhetri and Robin Singh on the roster and a coach like Ashley Westwood, the former English football player. A year later, this debutant team went on to win the I-League trophy, creating history in India.
More recently, Bangalore hosted a snazzy footballing event. The former member of Azzurri, Marco Materazzi who is mostly remembered for the infamous headbutt in the FIFA World Cup final 2006, was in the city. The agenda for his visit, which was sponsored by Italian club, Inter Milan, was to support Karnataka State Football Association (KSFA) in developing the game in Bangalore. He interacted with fans who visited the stadium in throngs, showcased his footballing skills and even gave away signed footballs. Bangalore will also be hosting one of the franchises in the Indian Super League in September 2014 which has only added to the excitement surrounding the sport.And now, as the biggest footballing event, the FIFA World Cup 2014 is just around the corner, the football fever has once again engulfed the city.
When the venue for the World Cup was announced a few years ago, there were many who were hoping to make it to Brazil. But Ashutosh (name changed), who works in a social media firm, was determined to be there to witness it, come what may. So when he got a chance to travel to Brazil to work as a volunteer, he did not want to miss the opportunity. “I took a bank loan to fund the trip and took a four-month sabbatical from work.” For Ashutosh, who lives and breathes football, it was all worth it.

Like Ashutosh, ardent football lovers in the city are waiting with bated breath for the kick-off of the event on June 12 in Rio De Janeiro. “This is something that every football fan looks forward to, and now it’s here,” says Zulfiqaar Ahmed, a nanotechnologist. A staunch supporter of France, he grew up watching Zinedine Zidane play. “Zizou was my idol since childhood and still is. Hence, I have supported France throughout my life.”

Brazil, being the host nation, has been a favourite among many. And Michelle Alvarez, who is a die-hard Liverpool fan, is one of them. “I have always supported Brazil right from the days of Roberto Carlos. They are a very balanced team and are very strong on the field. Though they do not have enough experience of playing in a World Cup, I know that they will do their best to reach the finals.” But Zulfiqaar and Michelle admit that the teams will face a stiff competition from countries like Spain and Germany. “Spain, the defending champions, are going to show off their might with an illustrious midfield while the German side is filled with big names like Mario Gotze and Philip Lahm”, adds Suraj, who is cheering for England.

But what matters more is the sport itself and nothing brings people together like the football World Cup. With the games shown live at 9.30 pm, 12.30 and 3.30 am, Zulfiqaar rues that there are not many places that will be screening the matches. So he has already made plans to watch the games at home with his friends. “Our friends circle has people who are rooting for different teams. Even friends who do not follow football have agreed to join in the frenzy.”

With just nine days left for the sporting event, sales of World Cup merchandise are also booming. Fans are busy splurging on team kits to show their support and solidarity for the team they support. Walk down Brigade Road or Rest House Road, and you will find shops displaying Rooney, Ronaldo, Lampard and Neymar jerseys. Apart from jerseys, they are busy hawking flags, shoes, keychains and caps. Even large apparel brands like Nike, which sponsors several teams in the World Cup have been selling national team kits of Brazil, Portugal, England, Netherlands and USA. And Avinash Pant, the marketing director, says the response has been phenomenal, especially for Brazil. “In India, our love for Brazilian football and the Brazilian football team is well known. This year, with Brazil hosting the tournament, the country’s interest and support for Brazil is on a rise. We have seen great response for the Brazil team kit and the off-pitch sportswear collection that we launched recently.” Taking cue, e-commerce giant, Myntra had also launched its World Cup store online where fans can shop for World Cup merchandise by country.

And it is not only about cheering for your favourite football team. Of late, there is an increase in youngsters who are taking up football as a hobby as well. “There are plenty of young football talents in Bangalore and they are looking for training and guidance under professional environment to excel. We have about 200 registered students with us who are training regularly for progressive development. We already have a few kids who can play at international level in coming years with proper training, development and exposure and we are focused to make it happen. The entry age to our academy is 5 years and we are delighted to see so many young talents training with us,” says Darren Wiltshire, technical director, Boca Juniors Football School.

It is evident that for Bangaloreans, football is not just a game, it is a passion. And in the next four months, the frenzy will reach an all-new high as all eyes will be on Brazil.

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