Maybe the Brazilians or Argentines will be bemused to understand the intense passion that millions of Bangladeshis feel for the two World Cup rivals. I mean, honestly, this is slightly unnatural!
How many times did these two teams meet in the World Cup? As far as I recall, the last time the two South American powerhouses locked horns was in 1990 when the Argentines won, thanks to a goal from Claudio Caniggia. Now, how’s this for a fact: after 90, these teams never faced each other in the greatest football jamboree of the globe.
Yep, they have played out friendlies and Copa America games but never at the World Cup after 1990.
The 1990 match is known for the alleged ‘holy water’ incident. Let me refresh your memory a little: during the match, when an Argentine player fell on the ground, the medical staff went in and, at one point, Branco, a Brazilian player, asked for some water and was handed a bottle. Later, Branco claimed the water was laced with sedatives which Maradona mentioned on TV later on.
Well, whether it was spiked or not, in the end, the Blues won the game and Brazil were out.
The Brazil Argentina frenzy in Bangladesh seems to reach a new intensity with every world cup gathering. This year, we even have TVadverts which are focusing on relentless jibes that the fans of two teams regularly exchange, to add more zing.
This time though the flag obsession is a bit low. Last time, when Brazil was pulverized by Germany, Argentine fans brought out a procession right in the heart of the city, in Elephant Road.
As for the final match in 2014, when Argentina, thought by many to be on their way to winning the cup, lost by a last minute brilliance by German player, Mario Gotze, doom dawned on Dhaka.
A night when the dead walked back home:
I was on the streets that night, to get a flavour of the public mood before the match. There was euphoria everywhere; some Argentina fans were a bit overwrought, reacting sharply to any naysayers.
At the Dhaka University area, betting was going on in full swing. One guy, just observing the high amount of money being put for Argentina, shyly commented: is it judicious to be so confident?
This sparked a ferocious reply from a die-hard Argentine supporter who lashed out saying: baajidhoren, dosh hajar Taka! (come, I will wager ten thousand for Argentina).
Once I used to play so much football that at one point, people thought that football would become my profession.
Anyway, the positive side of being linked to the game is that many came to me that day and asked for my opinion.
Maybe Germany will win, I said, voicing the inner instinct.
When Argentina took to the field wearing the dark blue jersey instead of the traditional light blue one, an ominous feeling crept in.
It’s not that Argentina playing in the dark blue shades never won or win a match; it’s because playing in that jersey, luck betrays them most of the time.
Look at the Iceland-Argentina match! Argentina wearing the same shade lost the final against Germany in 1990.
Call it superstition, if you will but I stand my ground.
Anyway, the overwhelming presence of people on the streets for the final match in 2014 to be shown on large screens, indicated that if their team won then this night would turn into unrestrained euphoria.
Alas, when it finished, zombies walked back home; millions were lost on the betting table, wives were infuriated after finding that husbands, in their feverish excitement, had lost large amounts.
You did, what!!!! The image of someone I know, shriveled in front of the missus, is still vivid in the mind.
People were shell shocked! As if their own team had lost the match.
Well, the truth is, for many football fans, Argentina or Brazil are ‘their’ World Cup national teams, which Bangladesh will possibly never be.
The intensity in support is actually the inner frustration multiplied:
The depth of the support often goes beyond the normal; think of a recent clash between two groups in which machetes and other sharp weapons were used.
In another sad incident, a young boy, while trying to set up a Brazil flag on a pole, died after he was electrocuted by an uncoated power line.
Interestingly, prior to 1986, there weren’t many Argentine supporters in Bangladesh. In fact, Brazil dominated the fan base.
World football opened to Bangladesh that year, with most matches shown directly. In 1982, only a handful was telecast live; a majority of the games were recorded and showed later.
When Brazil was out, beaten by France in 1986, people looked for a new icon and they found it in Maradona.
The diminutive striker/midfielder won millions of hearts, thus sparking the cult of Argentina.
The World Cup 1986 left a lasting legacy in Bangladesh. On one hand it spurred our own football standard, taking Bangladesh to the level of best south-east Asian sides and, on the other, almost all consumer products had the image of Maradona holding aloft the trophy.
The image was in books, mats, posters, shirts, chocolate wrappers and wall decorations.
This countrywide apotheosis of Maradona injected passion for Argentina into the minds of millions, especially the young.
That magnetism only increased every four years, with the arrival of Messi injecting renewed vigour into the fervent support.
Perhaps this feverish, almost maniacal support for Brazil and Argentina stems from the inner feeling that we will never be able to play at the World Cup.
An example will make the thing clear: when Bangladesh were the whipping boys of cricket, India-Pakistan cricket match sparked almost similar obsessions here.
Today, we are capable of beating the best and therefore, that primordial and divisive support for others has come down to a level of normality.
Anyway, the biggest sporting event is on; whether you are flying a flag or not, you are certainly keeping an eye on the two Latin American giants.
As for me, well, I am behind another team, Iran, who had to buy boots in Moscow since Nike refused to supply the cleats with the re-imposition of sanctions by the Trump government.
They won’t win it but they are representing Asia!
Towheed Feroze is a News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka