Decoding the Indian obsession for Brazil and Argentina football with a Brazilian journalist

How a warm conversation with a veteran Latin-American reporter while referencing my little daughter helped clear the air on this enigma

By Rituraj Borkakoty in Doha

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Yeshuda Xavier (left), a fan of Argentina's team and his son Jomon, a fan of Brazilian team, pose for pictures in India. AFP
Yeshuda Xavier (left), a fan of Argentina's team and his son Jomon, a fan of Brazilian team, pose for pictures in India. AFP

Published: Mon 12 Dec 2022, 9:22 PM

Last updated: Mon 12 Dec 2022, 9:45 PM

Unlike some in the Argentine contingent at the Fifa media centres in Qatar, it’s been very hard to find a Brazilian journalist who can hold a conversation on anything in English.

They greet you with a warm smile, then they give you a cold shoulder after they realise that you cannot hold a conversation on anything in Portuguese.

From the day Brazil played their first match against Serbia, I have been observing one veteran Brazilian commentator who gets animated after every foul on a Brazilian player.

Of course, when you are a Brazilian footballer, you will be subjected to the dark arts from your opponents who envy your talent for beautiful football.

Wearing the bright yellow of the Brazil team, the veteran radio commentator then punched the air and screamed ‘GOOOAAAAAL’ after Richarlison broke the deadlock against the feisty Serbs.

I have attempted to start a conversation with this commentator several times, but he gets away from me every time, as expertly as a classical center forward gets past his marker.

So I was quite frustrated at the lost opportunity of talking to an old Brazilian football commentator on the old Brazilian football classics.

I had almost given up hope. But the day Brazil were to play the quarterfinal against Croatia, something changed quite dramatically.

As I was making my way out of the Qatar National Convention Centre (QNCC) for the Argentina-Netherlands game on Friday, a journalist in Brazil colours grabbed my attention.

He was guiding a UAE-based Indian reporter on how to reach the Lusail Stadium.

“It’s very easy, you get the Metro from QNCC to Al Bida. Change the train at Al Bida on the red line and it will take you to the Lusail Metro Station. From that metro station, it’s just a 10-minute walk to the Lusail Stadium. Very easy,” the Brazilian explained in perfect English.

“Bulls’-eye,” I said to myself.

So the name of the journalist is Fernando. A veteran on the field, Fernando has covered every football World Cup since 1998.

He also writes on motorsports, an area of work that has also taken him to places like Bangalore, Delhi and even Rajasthan in India.

But before I could prod him on the legends of Brazilian football, it was Fernando’s inquisitiveness about India’s obsession with Brazilian and Argentinian football then pushed mine into oblivion.

“So how did India become such a big admirer of Brazilian and Argentinian football?” Fernando asked me.

Fernado has heard about the craze for the two South American giants in India and even in Bangladesh.

But it’s only after seeing Indian and Bangladeshi immigrants in Qatar at the World Cup, Fernando has realized the sheer magnitude of the support enjoyed by Brazil and Argentina in the Indian sub-continent.

I then had to tell him how it all started with Pele, Garrincha, Vava and Didi when Brazil won the World Cup in 1958, the first of their five titles.

“People in India had no access to a television set back in the day, but the vivid descriptions of their eye-catching football in newspapers the next day would send the Indian football fans into an imaginary world,” I said.

“It continued for your next two World Cups (1962 and 1970) and some in India drool even today about your 1982 team, the one that failed to win the trophy but won every heart with their brand of attacking football.”

There was a glint in Fernando’s eye when I spoke about the absolute adulation of the Indian public for Brazil.

But he wanted to know how Argentina, their fiercest rivals, captured the Indian imagination if Brazil had been so popular for so long.

“Yes, it was all Brazil in India until (Diego) Maradona changed all that with that left foot,” I said.

“By 1986, people had television sets even in the far-flung corners of India. And when they saw Maradona’s bewitching talent, half of India’s football fans switched from the Brazilian yellow to the Argentinian blue and white stripes.”

Fernando was noting down every point on a piece of paper when I whispered into his ears: “And I have been a die-hard supporter of your greatest football rival.”

“Argentina,” he snarled.

But I told him how something dramatic is taking shape in my life now.

“For some reason, my seven-year-old daughter is beginning to fall for the Brazilian team,” I said.

“She loves Neymar and googles everything about Brazilian football and Brazilian people.

“I am quite amazed because until recently all she knew in football was Messi. Even every child that she saw playing football in the parks and the parking lots was Messi for her!”

Fernando’s eyes sparkled again, as brightly as the dazzling yellow of the Brazilian jersey he was wearing.

“So there she goes, it’s the start of another Brazilian-Indian football love story,” he said as we both smiled and waved goodbye.

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