A young employee of a gym in south Kolkata turned heads during a football discussion on Saturday morning.
“Amar desh ke support korbo na toh ki onyo desh ke korbo (Would I support any country other than my own)?” said Sunny Ghosh. Everyone around him started laughing and he had to be reminded that Argentina was not his country. Ghosh was a little embarrassed but still did not disown Argentina.
Between Diego Maradona and Lionel Messi, a large part of Kolkata has come to identify itself with the Latin American nation, the eighth-largest country in the world, known for its waterfalls, wine, meat and, of course, football.
Many of them have no idea where Argentina is on the world map. But come World Cup, these people eat, drink and sleep Argentina. “Sir, aar kichhu chai na jiboaney, shudhu Messi-r haath-e cup (Sir, I want nothing else in life, only the cup in Messi’s hands),” Ghosh said.
Tens of thousands in this part of the world are saying the same in their own way.
Kolkata’s tryst with Argentina started in 1986, when Maradona led the La Albiceleste to World Cup glory. At the cusp of history once more, another debate is raging in the minds of Argentina fans. If Argentina were to win the cup, will Messi surpass Maradona?
Tanmoy Bose, chief patron of Argentina fans in a neighbourhood behind the fire station in Patuli, thinks he will.
Bose was a teenager when Maradona lifted the World Cup. He remembers being mesmerised by his “magical” left foot in front of a back-andwhite TV set.
Now 54, Bose is equally enchanted by Messi.
“But football coverage has evolved a lot. Every dribble, every run and every movement is dissected minutely. I have seen Messi in a way I never saw Maradona. I think longevity is very important in the Messi-versus-Maradona debate. Messi has been ruling world football for a much longer period than Maradona. A World Cup is what he needs now,” said Bose, who recently retired from a private hospital’s administrative office.
For the World Cup, a 55- inch TV was bought and set up at Bose's club. But he makes it a point to watch every Argentina match alone, in his bedroom. “I haven’t changed the bedsheet since the second game where Argentina beat Mexico. You cannot take chances,” said Roy.
The Copa America triumph in July 2021 was Argentina’s first major international trophy in 28 years. But their fandom in Kolkata has not dwindled largely because of Messi, who made his World Cup debut in Germany in 2006.
For the past 16 years and through three subsequent World Cups, the Argentina fans in Kolkata have been rock solid behind their team and its talisman.
Another final in Brazil eight years ago had ended in heartbreak, courtesy a late goal from Germany’s Mario Gotze. This time, they hope for a different ending.
“Win or lose, you cannot not love Messi. He is not arrogant. He has seen so many failures. But he keeps trying. I hope he gets the farewell he deserves,” said Omprasad Chattopadhyay, who lives near Tollygunge Metro station and works for an automobile company.
Countless neighbourhoods have been decked out in the blue-and-white colours of Argentina. Giant posters, with Messi as the centerpiece, are everywhere. While some have already placed the golden trophy in his hands, some have it written as a foregone conclusion, often in typo-ridden Bengali.
Till a little over a week ago, canary yellow flags of a neighbouring — and one with a richer football history — country vied for space with Argentina flags. But after Brazil’s shock defeat at the hands of Croatia, the yellow flags have either been taken off or they are fluttering in neglect.
Brazil supporters are a divided house. Many have tilted towards their arch-rivals because of their talisman.
“Leo Messi deserves the World Cup. A true football lover will want that,” said Satyajit Saha, a Brazil fan who lives in Dum Dum Cantonment and works in Burrabazar.
But a section of more serious Brazil supporters will root for France on Sunday.
“After Brazil’s tiebreaker defeat, a couple of Argentina supporters did a Samba dance to celebrate. I am still seething. I am praying for (French forward Kylian) Mbappé,” said Pritam Gupta, a Behala resident.
If they are answered, Gupta’s prayers will bring the world crashing down for Avijit Routh, a 28-year-old driver in Chetla.
Messi’s portrait finds a spot on his wall, beside Krishna and Radha.
“I am not thinking of any other result. The cup is destined to end up in Messi's hands,” said Routh.