If only Argentina and Brazil knew just how their early - let’s say unexpected - exits would impact the global media. Not just the vast army that the likes of O Globo and Diario Clarin deploy, who are now wandering about a bit aimlessly, but for the reporters from Calcutta, India.
Yes, Calcutta. You may not know (and you’ll be forgiven) but Calcutta is among the most fanatical football cities anywhere in the world, a legacy of the British Raj. The football played there isn’t much to shout about - though the main stadium can comfortably pack in 100,000 people - so instead the Calcuttans cheer for Brazil and Argentina. It has always been like that, more so since 1978 when the World Cup was first televised in India. Pele, who famously played in Calcutta with Cosmos in 1977, and Maradona, in the city a couple of years ago, are both venerated. Entire neighbourhoods are swathed in either blue or yellow-and-green during the World Cup, and loyalties are hotly contested. They don’t really care what happens to the 30 other teams: their focus is squarely on the South American giants.
Since such loyalties demand detailed World Cup coverage, the media houses respond by sending out their troops. There are 28 reporters from Calcutta here in South Africa, which must make it the best-represented city from a country not actually taking part in the World Cup (there are also 30 from Bangladesh, who share this quirk of football fandom with their neighbours across the border). Their brief is simple: Cover Brazil and Argentina, forget the rest.
The problem is that both teams, in gross negligence of their responsibilities, have exited the tournament and left their extended family of fans in gloom. The normally ebullient, talkative bunch is unnaturally morose, without the likes of Kaka and Messi to write about. “The thrill is just not there for our readers,” one reporter told me. “Imagine if Maradona and Messi were in the semi-finals - I could write 20 stories on it.” Another said his editor had called him. “He said I could return if I wanted, or I could stay back. It was my choice - the tournament is over for the paper.”
The city loves an underdog, though, so don’t be surprised if they perk up should Uruguay - underdog and Latin American - make the final. Just don’t tell the Uruguayans that - they already have enough pressure.