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Last Updated: Monday, 12 June 2006, 23:12 GMT 00:12 UK
Rooting for Brazil in Calcutta
By Sanjoy Majumder
BBC News, Calcutta

A young Indian fan gets a dab of paint
Football fever has struck Calcutta
In a bustling street in the heart of the Indian city of Calcutta, a group of boys are hard at work.

Eyes screwed tight in concentration, shoulders hunched, two boys hold a giant makeshift ladder as their friend carefully places names over a row of brightly-coloured cardboard flags.

Brazil, Argentina, England, Germany... the names of the 32 participating nations of the World Cup stand out proudly from a wrought-iron balcony on the second-storey of a crumbling apartment building.

On the next street, a painter puts finishing touches on a giant mural featuring top football stars.

As a crowd looks on in anticipation, a group of young boys, their faces painted with the colours of the Brazilian flag, break out in a chant.

"Braaziil, Braaziil," they scream, egged on by the crowd.

Football fever has struck Calcutta.

The Brazilians are artists, they are so skilful
Sishir Lal Banerjee, 65

A carnival atmosphere has enveloped the city of 10 million, which is India's football capital.

While most Indians prefer to watch the national cricket team in action, people here are passionate about football.

"It is a game for the masses," says Raja Sen, a teenager who plans to watch each and every World Cup match.

"This city has a footballing culture - on any day, you can see groups of boys playing football in the streets or in the parks."

Rooting for Brazil

The biggest public space in the city is the sprawling Maidan - a vast, green openness often described as the city's lungs.

A busy street market takes up one corner. It is here that the city's football fans come to stock up.

Flags and buntings in Kalighat, Calcutta
The green and gold colours of Brazil stand out in the crowd
And although the market is awash with flags and t-shirts of all the participating teams, it is the green and gold colours of the Brazilian team that are the hot favourites.

"You'll have to come tomorrow," says one shopkeeper to a disappointed young fan.

"I'm out of medium Brazil shirts - only extra-large available."

India is not participating in the World Cup - but there is little doubt that everyone here is backing the South American nation.

"The Brazilians are artists, they are so skilful," says Sishir Lal Banerjee, 65.

Mr Banerjee has been a Brazil fan for the past 40 years.

His most enduring moment was when he watched Brazilian football legend Pele play an exhibition match in Calcutta in the mid-70s.

Street football

Like in Brazil, the game is most popular among the city's poor children.

I dream of becoming a professional footballer
Abhijit, 16

Sixteen-year-old Abhijit lives in one of the city's many slums and has been playing the game since he was six.

"I love the game," he says simply as he takes off his boots before entering the one-room home that he shares with his parents and brother.

"I dream of becoming a professional footballer," he says.

But the game has little support in the country. Abhijit and his friends play every evening in a run-down neighbourhood park.

Sao Paulo to Calcutta

Help is at hand, however, for some of Calcutta's football hopefuls.

Brazilian coach Romario instructs his students
Romario believes there is plenty of talent in India
Brazilian coach Romario has travelled all the way from Sao Paulo to Calcutta where he runs a football clinic.

Under his watchful eye, a group of boys train hard, as he cajoles, scolds and encourages them.

"They are talented," he says with a smile, "but need encouragement."

"Back home in Brazil, we are born with a football. All of us spend all our time playing the game and the whole country is passionate about the sport.

"Here people are passionate about cricket."

It is perhaps part of the reason why India is ranked a lowly 118 in world football.

No Indian team has ever played in a World Cup.

Every evening, Abhijit and his friends gather in front of a television set placed on the street-corner to catch live World Cup action.

They cheer at every move before breaking into a frenzied dance as the first goal is scored.

"Some-day I hope it'll be India that I'll be cheering," says one of the boys.

"Then we'll stop supporting Brazil."

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