Cup Fever

  • While the stadiums in faraway Russia prepare for noise and colours of travelling fans, this global event stirs up just as much excitement among Nepali football followers who love every twist and turn of the game
- Suman Malla, KATHMANDU

Jun 14, 2018-

It is a feast for the eyes, ears and palette, an event unlike anything else in the world, where the games are viewed not just as games, but as festivals of bouncing colours and delectable flavours of the world.

It is the World Cup of football.

The feast begins this evening with hosts Russia taking on Saudi Arabia. Moreover, for the next 31 days, the whole world will plunge into a state of wild excitement as 32 nations that survived a nearly two-year qualifying process vie for the football’s most coveted prize.

For the last few months, football enthusiasts across the world have trembled at the thought of one anguishing question: how to get a ticket for the World Cup?

Most of the seats were sold out the moment they went on sale.

Akriti Thakali of Swayambhu is one of 40 lucky winners of all-expenses-paid trip to Russia 2018 contest organised by Coca-Cola. She can’t wait catching Argentinian football legend Lionel Messi up close.

“I’ve been awarded a ticket to watch Argentina and Iceland game,” said Thakali, an MBA student at Saim College. She is leaving for Moscow on Friday.

More passionate Nepali football fans are travelling to Russia for the World Cup.

From the moment, he watched Italy lift the World Cup with a shootout victory over France in 2006 on TV, Abhinav Pandey had always wanted to watch football’s biggest showpiece from the stands.

“Watching Azzurri captain Fabio Cannavaro lift the trophy after the Berlin final was a surreal moment,” Pandey recalled. “Then I thought to myself ‘One day, I would go and watch a World Cup game from the stands.’”

Pandey, 25, who helps his father in a family-run business, says he bought a ticket to watch the quarter-final match in Sochi on July 7 when the online kiosk opened in March.

Italy, along with another one of his favourite teams, the Netherlands, could not make it to the finals, but he is excited and looking forward to being a part of the biggest football carnival in the biggest country.

“Maybe I should root for the Germans now,” says Pandey, who is leaving for Moscow on June 25.

With around 400,000 foreign fans expected to attend the event, the Russian government’s decision to provide the ticket holders with Fan ID would be handy  to commute across this vast country.

The FAN ID, part of the Fifa World Cup security system, will provide visa-free entry to Russia, according to officials at the Russian Embassy in Kathmandu. Fan ID holders can enter and stay in Russia 10 days prior to and after the match. They can use public transport free on the metro and between cities.

In fact, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s promise to scrap visas was a crucial element in his country winning the vote to host the Fifa’s showpiece event.

The pioneers have been hard at work since Russia entered race in early 2009. On December 2, 2010, Fifa opted for the Russian project to the detriment of other bidders–England, Spain/Portugal and Netherlands/Belgium.

Putin, who was the country’s prime minister at the time, thanked Fifa for what he described as “a sign of trust” for his country.

“Russia loves football, Russia knows what football is,” Putin said in a televised interview. “And in our country we have everything to conduct the 2018 World Cup on a very worthy level.”

Naturally, such ambitions come at a cost.

According to leading global management, consulting firm McKinsey, Russia has spent $19.4 billion on World Cup preparations, making it the most expensive tournament ever. South Africa had spent $6 billion in 2010 and Brazil $15 billion in 2014.

A total of 64 matches will be played in 12 stadiums located in 11 cities across the country: Moscow, St Petersburg, Sochi, Kazan, Saransk, Kaliningrad, Volgograd, Rostov-on-Don, Nizhny Novgorod, Yekaterinburg and Samara. Two of the stadiums are located in the Russian capital.

While Russia may be the capital of the world, the madness also catches on here in the Valley. Restaurants in and around Thamel and Jhamsikhel are getting their party face on–with the atmospheric volume pumping up from sedately tropical to riotously football.

Giant projector screens are set to be a common sight, with football being the main item on the menu.

For many football fans, the spectacle of World Cup is an indulgence they look forward once every four years. While the ardent and rich fans travel to the host country to watch their favourite players in action at the stadium, millions watch the action live indoors on television or hand-held devices. They do not care if they have to watch matches ww ell past mid-night and head to school, college, office or business with fatigue and bleary eyes next morning. The fatigue is worth it because Fifa World Cup football is the ‘Mother of all Sports Battles’.

All that is left, then, is to play football. Ultimately, the success of the World Cup depends on the quality of the performance from players of the 32 teams who will tear up the turf during the month-long tournament.

Drama abounds, with nations arriving in Russia from five continents, each carrying a multitude of stories and potential heroes.

Brazil, with Neymar as the team’s fulcrum, are among the favourites along side holders Germany—the eternal finalists, Argentina, France and Spain.

The group draw held in December has already resulted in some mouth-watering encounters, most notable of them all being the ones between England and Belgium, and Spain taking on Portugal in Iberian derby.  

With home supporters egging on, Russia will be looking to put behind a long bad patch to avoid an ignominy of becoming only the second host in the World Cup history, after South Africa, to bow out of the group stage.

If the World Cup is the most watched, the most observed spectacle on the planet, it’s not because 22 men are running around chasing a ball; it’s because it’s the most obvious, most universal story of efforts, uncertainties and realism. Plus it is just a game.

A woman with her daughter poses for a picture on Wednesday next to the official mascot Zabivaka in front of the Fisht stadium, which will host some World Cup matches in Sochi. AP/RSS

Fans fear power outages may spoil their fun

While football connoisseurs head to various cities in Russia to watch World Cup matches live, many fans in Nepal, India, Bangladesh, Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan would be sweating in the Asian summer in their homes!

Most fans would hope and pray power supply does not trip while they watch matches. Power outages are common in Asia.

Delhi-based Barcelona and Lionel Messi fans Chris Daniel says, “Although the power outages are rare these days, I’m not taking any chances. I fear there would be heavy load on the power grid in Delhi with lakhs of people watching matches on television with air-conditioners running full blast. I’ve setup alternate power backup.” In the wake of several sudden power outages over the past week in Nepal, football fans here dread this might take happen before or in the middle of a World Cup match.

“Despite Nepal Electricity Authority’s assurances, power trips regularly in the country. When it

happens in the middle of a football match, especially during the World Cup, it is frustrating,” says Suroj Joshi, a resident of Khumaltar. He plans to watch some games featuring Brazil at a sports bar in Jhamsikhel.

Chief of NEA’s Load Dispatch Centre Bishnu Prasad Shrestha admits there were technical glitches that disrupted power supply. The authority’s technical teams are constantly monitoring the system, he assures.

“We will ensure uninterrupted power supply in the future.” The promise augurs well for football fans in Kathmandu.

Published: 14-06-2018 15:52

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