• Saturday, February 28, 2015

Dhaka speaks its mind

Talat Ahmed & Shoumik Muhammed Mushfique
Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed
Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed

The World Cup is finally here! SHOUT went to the streets and campuses for a peek at how the football fans are prepping. Most are flocking to stores in search of jerseys, putting up flags on their roofs and wearing the colours of their favourite team. We asked people how they thought their favourite teams would fare. Surprisingly, our sample population didn't consist of an overwhelming majority of Brazil and Argentina fans. And not so surprisingly, a staggering majority of Spain fans we came across were females. More England fans were grumpy and not so optimistic while Italy and Netherlands fans were very few yet quite vocal.


Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed
Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed

Not many are optimistic about their chances this year.  “That is mostly due to a very inexperienced defensive setup,” says Ahnaf, a fan. “I don't see Oranje going past the quarters. In fact, it'll be extremely tough for them to get past the group stage.” Netherlands has a very strong attack with Van Persie, Sneijder, Robben and Huntelaar who can be a formidable threat. But it would be too much to expect a defence line of just youngsters. Dutch wonderkids are always technically brilliant and there are players in the squad who could spring a surprise or two,” he adds. “The big difference maker this year could be manager Louis van Gaal. The guy is a genius, and he is the only reason I have some degree of optimism regarding our chances in this World Cup. If it were anybody else, I probably would have given up already.”
Most Italy fans we came across predicted Italy going as far as the semis if they didn't have to face the likes of Germany or Spain along the way. “There will be new faces in the squad for me, as I don't follow the Italian Serie A,” says Hikmat, a fan. “Our biggest threat could be Balotelli's temper!” -- he adds. In general, expectations are heightened given the recent Azzuri form.

This team has no shortage of talent. “Their strength lies on the midfield and attack they have at their disposal, in particular Hazard and Lukaku, who are coming to this World Cup on the back of hugely successful personal club campaigns,” says Ahraf. “In Courtois, Belgium has arguably the best keeper in the world right now after his phenomenal season with Atletico.”
He adds, “Belgium is expected to navigate the group stages easily but topping the group might pit them against Portugal or Germany. Their inexperience, as well as a lack of defensive and overall width might cost them in the latter stages of the competition. This is a team that could create a real upset.”

Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed
Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed

The current French side is quite formidable and fairly balanced with manager Didier Deschamps at the helm. The few France fans we found expect them to make it to the quarter finals at least.
According to France supporter, Rubab, the French lack the edge up front. “Benzema or Giroud can't carry the team and I don't think they'll convert most chances,” says Rubab. “France should play more traditional counter-attacking football. Cohesion is all they need. They could go far past the quarters.”

2010 saw Fabio Capello take England's oldest ever squad to the World Cup; now Roy Hodgson has put his faith in youth. England is coming to the World Cup with their youngest ever squad since 1966, when they incidentally won their only championship. Despite the young upstarts, “England's chances are non-existent” is still what a particular England fan had to say. Expectations are to reach the quarter finals at the very least, but some might say England's World Cup woes have been made more difficult this year by being placed in the same group as 5-time champion Italy and in-form Uruguay. “Now that Suarez is injured, Uruguay are considerably much weaker, so that makes it easier for England to go through to the quarters,” was what one fan had to say.

Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed
Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed

After Brazil and Argentina, Germany's fan-base might be the largest in our country. It doesn't take long to find a Deutschland fan on the streets of Dhaka. Expectations from the German fans range widely. Optimists believe the Germans have a shot at glory this year, and there isn't much that says they shouldn't be as hopeful. However, people like Reeshi Datta aren't harbouring high expectations. “The team lacks valuable experience,” is what he had to say when asked why he expects Germany to only make it to the quarter finals despite having one of the most star-studded squads in the tournament.
Post Euro 2008 saw the rise of Bangladesh's Spanish fan-base, and as reigning champions, it has only been on the up since then. “I think Spain have the biggest chance of winning after Brazil this year,” says Nishat. “The squad looks strong and I am confident they will reach the semis.” The fans don't seem like they have much concern, but Spain could find it harder this year with most teams picking up on how to play against the Tiki-taka.

Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed
Photos: Darshan Chakma & Firoz Ahmed

Argentina is one of the fan favourites in this part of the world. Despite having not performed well in more than a decade on the World Cup stage, Argentina's fans are just as passionate ever. When asked about his motivation for supporting Argentina, fan Sabbir replied, “My family's been supporting Argentina for as long as I can remember. I think it started with everyone's fascination with Maradona.”
“We have a strong squad. Always had,” says Wasif. “We have the likes of Messi, Di Maria and Aguero this time. We will go easy on no one.”
“Brazil plays beautiful football,” says Maheema. “What other reason does one need to support them?”
“There is no reason to doubt that Brazil could be lifting their sixth World Cup trophy in their homeland,” says Ahraf. “They have a core group of players who are young and ridiculously talented, a coach who has done and seen it all and excels in making his team play the 'Brazilian way'. Brazilians have all they need. In terms of squad, the defence and midfield look rock solid, with the only questionable area being the centre-forward, Fred. He is not a world class striker and it will be interesting to see how he does against teams desperate to prevent Brazil from scoring.”
Ahraf points out that Brazil's greatest strength and weakness will be the fans, the morale, as well as the pressure.
People here are just as bonkers about their favourite teams this World Cup season as they have been for years gone by. The most casual of football fans will be staying up till 4 in the morning to watch these games, flags will crowd the rooftops, and cable operators will be in for hell. Everyone has their notions, predictions, hopes and “expert” advice. Only time will tell how things will go down.

Published: 12:00 am Thursday, June 12, 2014

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