Brazil’s shock exit to Belgium was clear in Saint Petersburg with more fans following a samba beat than the Europeans in the semi-final clash against France
Kashinath Bhattacharjee, Saint Petersburg
The World Cup is of the fans, for the fans and by the fans.
You enter the stadium and the roaring sounds of supporters welcome you. They sing their national anthems loudly. Their cheering and cursing always makes the game more enjoyable.
Saint Petersburg stadium was a little different on Tuesday night. Fans were there but most of them were neutral. When we were coming in from Moscow on board a FIFA train – meant for the fans and journalists – we had a Brazilian co-passenger. Daniel has been in New Zealand for more than 12 years now. But the attraction of World Cup is still irresistible to him. Four years ago, he wanted to return to his home city Sao Paulo taking a two months’ leave. His employers were kind enough to instead transfer him to Sao Paulo for three months. This time, however, he was on a 30-day leave and came to Moscow. His tickets for the semi-final was booked for Petersburg.
“When Brazil lost I thought I would sell the ticket. Later, on a second thoughts, I decided to come simply because it is a semi-final of a World Cup and I did not want to miss it. Not many get such an opportunity to be in the stands for one of the last four matches. And I shall be looking forward to the final also.”
This passion was missing from both the participating nations in Petersburg. Belgium, being a small nation, is not famous for its fans. Les Bleus has their own set of supporters and they were the only section making noise. The neutral galleries shouted for the Belgian moves and French people reciprocated when they were playing better. Actually, the neutrals were those making the game enjoyable since they were shouting for both teams.
Antoine Griezmann is unquestionably having his best tournament so far. Each of his touches was decisive on the pitch. His positional sense and football-intelligence perhaps reminded older French people of Michael Platini who always used to find his partners without even looking at them. They had given a perfect lesson to the Belgians who were boasting probably too much after scoring two from three chances in the previous match and one of them was accidental. If only Olivier Giroud could have found his scoring boots – he has been in search of them from the beginning of the tournament – the defeat could have been humiliating for Belgium. They were lucky enough to have Giroud in opposition in this match and the misfiring Brazilians in the earlier game.
The Mexican supporters, especially when their players play badly, jeer their own footballers with different kinds of whistles. Fortunately, Belgium does not have those kind of fans. And for them, reaching the semi-final was probably more satisfying. It seemed that they had exceeded their expectation both for their players and their fans. Reminding us about Mary Pierce or a Jana Novotna in women’s tennis who, after every big win in their grand slam career, used to invariably lose the next match.