June 9. Germany vs Costa Rica, 9.30 pm IST. The magic month had kicked-off. The quadrennial showpiece Calcutta waits for so eagerly was underway. Thirty-two teams, 64 matches, 30 days. Time to root for and rant, cry for and curse.
As the tournament progressed, the triumphs and tribulations in Germany triggered tectonic shifts in Calcutta ' shameful switching of sides, dramatic changing of colours.
Monada in the para ' still sporting a Ronaldo jersey on Saturday ' labelled us 'subidhabadi (opportunists)'. But we turned a deaf ear. After all, what's worse than having the team you've backed being knocked out of World Cup 2006' Being mute spectators and not rooting for a team in the running for the Cup, of course.
So when our favourites fell by the wayside, we mourned through the night and then moved on to pick another team to cheer and champion'
On the eve of the France vs Italy final, Metro tracks the mood swings of the soccer-crazy Calcutta supporter through a month of midsummer madness ruled by Teamgeist, a sphere no more than 70 cm in diameter and 450 gm in weight
Time to drown in a sea of green and yellow ' again. They are called Brazil. They wear the crown of defending champions. They have Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, Kaka and Robinho. There was no doubt with which team Calcutta's heart lay in distant Germany.
'Hexa' hurrah was the mood from Golbari to Gol Park. 'Brazil dada, Brazil'. Orai cup niye jabe' were the words spoken by the wise men of soccer support in almost every para. Yes, what 'PK' and 'Chuni' were saying the day after, Pappuda and Chintuda had said the night before.
The sea of green and yellow was punctuated by islands of blue and white. In the Brazil vs Argentina, Parreira vs Pekerman support showdown, Riquelme was pitted against Ronaldinho, Crespo against Ronaldo and Messi against Robinho.
South America held sway everywhere, be it Harish Chatterjee Street (Mamata Banerjee's para was all for Argentina) or Harish Mukherjee Road (the writing on the wall was all Brazil).
As giant flags, colourful streamers and confetti dotted shabby buildings in Calcutta north and south, the Latino campaign got off to contrasting starts. The Brazilian big guns didn't fire at the start, hardly hitting the target till the second half of its last group match against Japan. 'Brazil ekhon warm-up korchhe' Knockout ta ashte de' ' waiting for the knockout matches was the name of the game in the Brazil camp.
Argentina's incredible 24-pass mass move that capped the 6-0 demolition of Serbia and Montenegro got the blue-and-white brigade in Calcutta crowing: 'Argentinar moto bench strength karur nei; Maradona ke dekhli'
The supporter pie had a few novel ingredients ' 'I am with England for Beckham'; 'We are with Ghana'; 'Klinsmann has really turned this German team around' it'll be great if the home team wins'.
The loyalties were defined, the battle-lines were drawn, the favourites had all made it to the knockout round.
City Odds: Favourites Brazil, followed by Argentina and England.
The pre-quarters went according to plan. An ageing France provided the only surprise spark with a rejuvenated Zidane-Viera-Henry combine sinking the Spanish armada. 'Jab tak Zidane hai, hum France ko support karenge,' became an audible murmur within the city support base.
The quarter-finals broke most hearts, upset every calculation, changed every equation and forced a return to the loyalty drawing board.
Both the 'Calcutta' teams were ambushed in the quarters. One by Zizou's genius in his twilight zone and Brazil's abject failure to play the game, forget the beautiful one, and the other by Jose Pekerman's momentary lapse of reason (imagine being kicked out of the Cup with Riquelme, Saviola and Messi on the bench!) and Germany's fighting spirit.
'Shob shesh' was a refrain reverberating around town. Suddenly, the groggy mornings after didn't seem worth the bleary-eyed late nights anymore. And the beer-burger combos didn't taste half as crisp.
But then life must go on and the Cup has to reach Berlin.
So we started scanning the line-up and came up with our proxy ' Portugal, of course! Why' Why not' The man at the helm, 'Big Phil' Scolari, himself was Brazilian. His team would surely satiate our samba craving. Then there was Deco, Brazil-born. Cristiano Ronaldo and Luis Figo were both household heroes, thanks to Man-U and Real. And yes, their colours reminded us so much of Mohun Bagan.
Ricardo's heroics in goal had seen Scolari's squad scrape past a lacklustre England in a bruising encounter. Beckham's Cup had ended in tears, Rooney's in the red.
Some Argentina supporters, who went into hiding after being beaten by Klinsie's men, zeroed in on Zizou's team. 'They have beaten Brazil. Let's go with them.' The same logic ' enemy's enemy is the best friend ' saw some Brazil supporters rallying around the home team, Germany.
City Odds: Favourites Germany, followed by Italy and France.
The semis sent Ballack's boys and Figo's fans crashing. One by a solid all-round performance by Lippi's lads, the others to Zidane's pinpoint penalty and Thurram's dour defence.
'Ja, aar kauke support korbo na' was the miffed verdict from the majority. The rest were divided by head (Italy) and heart (France).
So it's D-Day (er, night) under the brilliant 'ring-of-fire' lights of the history-steeped Olympiastadion in Berlin. The beers are in the chiller, TV dinner stacked in, friends invited over.
Yet, something's amiss ' no Brazil, no Argentina, but surely we can't sit through a World Cup final on a Sunday night without lending our lungs to one team'
We are sentimental souls, aren't we' So Zizou's Les Bleus it should be. A few mesmerising moves from the midfield maestro on his swansong can still salvage the climactic hour for Calcutta and place Zidane on Maradona's pedestal ' well, almost.
Any takers for Italy' Those who vote for history over high drama, professionalism over passion.
That includes the bookies, we see.
City Odds: 90 minutes ' Italy victory (207:100)/stalemate (285:100)/France victory (355:100).
Chiraag Paul, 17, training in Birmingham City Football Club academy to be a professional footballer in England
'My love for Brazil's football was enhanced after I went to train in a Sao Paolo academy. It's an amazing country with amazing people. I'm an out-and-out Brazil fan, for their flair and great technique. They are also very tactically aware usually, but in Germany, they were all over the place' They just didn't fire.
One can't really switch allegiance overnight. However, once Brazil got knocked out in the quarters, I found myself leaning towards Portugal somewhat, maybe because of Deco and Scolari, and perhaps more so due to Cristiano Ronaldo, since I'm an avid Man-U fan.
The final is a difficult call. My heart says France, but my head says Italy.'
Preeti Jhawar, fashion designer
'I was supporting Brazil from the start since they are always the leaders and the obvious favourites. After they went out, I started supporting Germany. The German team really came up in a big way this time; there were quite a few good-looking players as well. Between Italy and France, I'll support the Italians. I feel the Italian team is better than the French and most of the guys are very hot!'
'Everyone was supporting Brazil passionately so I began by cheering for the hosts, instead. Now that Germany's out, frankly I am not really supporting anyone. Why' Well, let's say I haven't thought much about these two teams!'
Jisshu Sengupta, actor
'All my support went to Argentina because of my childhood crush on Maradona. After their exit, I started rooting for Portugal, a team I must admit I have never before seen play so brilliantly. I also developed a special corner for Ghana somewhere along the way. Now, for the final game, my vote goes to France, but for no particular reason.'
Vicky, DJ at Venom
'I was harbouring a predictable soft spot for Brazil all the way. Then I was rooting for Portugal. But with both out of the tournament, I am now supporting France. Honestly, I don't care much about the French but I am looking forward to Zinedine Zidane's last game. He's been my favourite soccer star for quite some time now. Moreover, I don't think there's too much to look out for in Italy.'