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Euros and Copa America fever spreads in football-mad pockets of cricket-crazy India

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New Delhi, June 23 (IANS) The Euro 2024 and Copa America are both underway as the hype and excitement to watch, the biggest stars of world football representing their respective countries, has already begun to spread throughout India like wildfire.

A country that has historically adopted cricket as its main sport is not that far behind in football when it comes to passion. Fans are regularly seen at screenings in hotspots in various major cities while repping their favourite team’s jersey. Here’s a deeper dive into the rooted fixations that fans from all over the country have for their favourite players.

“In Kolkata, people are traditionally more of a FIFA World Cup and South American football fans. People are majorly neutral about European nations unless it’s Brazil, Argentina, or other South American powerhouses,” told a passionate football lover from Kolkata to IANS.

If one has to look for football fans in our country, then one would have to look no further than Kolkata, the city that breathes football. The fans went on to talk about the love the people have because of their roots and historical connection to such countries.

“With that said, there are parts of Kolkata where people are mad about England because of the colonial regime. There is a place called Bow Barracks where Anglo-Indians support the English, Dutch, and Scots because of their European roots. If you look on the outskirts of Kolkata, you will find your actual goldmine in Euro Football.

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“There is a place called Chandannagar in Hooghly district, the locals support France because the locality was under French rule until the independence of India. The Churches, Chapels, and a French diaspora help it to boost the French connections there,” added the die-hard Mohun Bagan supporter.

In previous editions of the Euros, Copa Americas, and the World Cups, social media has heavily highlighted the unreal passion that is on display by fans from Kerala. The 40-foot cutouts of Messi, Ronaldo, and Neymar went viral not just in India but across the globe as FIFA also applauded the dedication and passion of the home fans.

“Here in Kerala, the fan bases for European teams are quite fragmented. This contrasts with the Copa America, where there’s a clear and intense rivalry between fans of Brazil and Argentina. That being said, Spain’s national team has significant support in Kerala, particularly due to their era of dominance and the magical style of play characterised by players like Andres Iniesta, Xavi, and David Villa.

“Their brand of technical, possession-based football (tiki-taka) has created a lasting affection for the team. I would say that the love for La Liga, especially for teams like Real Madrid and FC Barcelona has contributed to the support for the Spanish national side. The Portugal team also enjoys a massive following among the mallu youth, mainly because of their love for Cristiano Ronaldo, who has been the poster boy for the Portuguese side for quite a few years,” a football fan hailing from Kerala told IANS.

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When it comes to recent times, the focal point of the sports events in the country has slowly transitioned from places like Kolkata and Mumbai to Ahmedabad. The city is filled with passionate football fans and one spoke fondly about the love that the city has for Ronaldo.

“I remember back in the day, we used to have a CR7 club in Ahmedabad. And I vividly remember how they took to the streets after Portugal won in 2016. 2021 was the year of COVID but I can guarantee you this year, places like TopSpin (club) will be packed especially when Portugal play. And given this is Ronaldo’s last Euros, who knows if he goes on to win it then the underground community of CR7 lovers will definitely have a little stroll past the Sabarmati Riverfront at night,” a Real Madrid fan and resident of Ahmedabad told IANS.

Messi and Ronaldo have been the epicentre of world football for the past two decades. The ongoing Euros have been a stepping stone that has displayed amazing talent from youngsters in the likes of Yamine Lamal and Jamal Musiala. One particular fan discussed his bond with the hosts of the 2024 Euros and how he watches the games despite being away from his home as he is currently studying in Punjab.

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“I have been a huge admirer of German football since 2010, and watching them go from Schweinsteiger and Muller to now Musiala and Wirtz has been nothing short of a crazy experience. The good part is that I am not alone, people here in Punjab are mad about football too. The excitement during the Euros is very visible here, with match screenings being set up in every possible corner of the town. It felt like an occasion during the 2022 World Cup when artists came to perform on screenings before the semifinals or the final, and I expect nothing less during the Euros.

“The local grounds are booked to capacity with a screen set up right in the middle of the ground, which makes sure the vibes are immaculate, and I expect nothing less. The arrangements plus the ample space in front of it make it the place to be during a match. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that it is very similar to the famous Boxpark in London,” said the admirer of German football to IANS.

Indian football fans over the years have grown accustomed to foreign fans trolling and questioning their dedication to international football but despite having to watch matches at ungodly hours and living in a country where cricket dominates all sporting discussions, the footballing fraternity has built a strong and unbreakable community to express their love for the beautiful game.

–IANS

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5th T20I: Mukesh, Riyan come in as Zimbabwe win toss and elect to bowl first against India

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Harare, July 14 (IANS) Mukesh Kumar and Riyan Parag come into India’s playing eleven as Zimbabwe won the toss and elected to bowl first in the fifth and final T20I of the series at the Harare Sports Club on Sunday.

India have already sealed the series with a 3-1 unassailable lead, thanks to their ten-wicket triumph in the fourth game on Saturday. Mukesh and Riyan replace Khaleel Ahmed and Ruturaj Gaikwad in India’s playing eleven, as they aim to end the series with a 4-1 scoreline.

“We were looking to bat first anyway. Our spinners have bowled well and the fast bowlers have been economical. The players have been hungry. It’s not easy to play back-to-back matches,” said India captain Shubman Gill after winning the toss.

Zimbabwe captain Sikandar Raza said Brandon Mavuta has replaced Tendai Chatara in the playing eleven for Sunday’s game, which they are eyeing to win for ending the series on a high.

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“The wicket will get better when we bat second. Not difficult at all, the motivation is there, the confidence is there and the skillset is there. We want to do well and finish the series on a high. Chatara has been rested, he’s played four games in a row and we have a Test match coming up (against Ireland),” he said.

Playing XIs-

India: Shubman Gill (captain), Yashasvi Jaiswal, Abhishek Sharma, Sanju Samson (wicketkeeper), Riyan Parag, Rinku Singh, Shivam Dube, Washington Sundar, Ravi Bishnoi, Tushar Deshpande and Mukesh Kumar

Zimbabwe: Wessly Madhevere, Tadiwanashe Marumani, Brian Bennett, Dion Myers, Sikandar Raza (captain), Johnathan Campbell, Faraz Akram, Clive Madande (wicketkeeper), Brandon Mavuta, Richard Ngarava and Blessing Muzarabani

–IANS

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Copa America final: 28-game unbeaten Colombia stand in the way of Argentina’s record title win (preview)

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Miami, July 14 (IANS) The 2024 Copa America has boiled down to its final game. The defending champions Argentina, will be taking on a strong Colombian side at the Hard Rock Stadium on Monday (IST).

Argentina’s path to the finals was straightforward with their biggest hurdle proving to be Ecuador in the quarter-finals which the side won on penalties thanks to the heroics of Emiliano Martinez. Lionel Scaloni’s men defeated Canada 2-0 in the semi-finals of the tournament.

Colombia on the other hand are on a dream run which has seen them remain unbeaten in 28 games which is a national record. Their previous record was of 27 games and their victory over Uruguay in the semi-finals saw them create history.

Argentina’s Lautaro Martinez is currently the leading scorer at the tournament with four goals to his name whereas James Rodriguez sits miles above the rest in the assists leaderboard with six to his name with the next best being several players tied with two assists.

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Head-to-head: The two sides have faced each other 42 times in their history with Argentina holding a impressive lead with 25 wins to their name compared to Colombia’s eight, nine games ended in draws.

What the managers said-

“I hope the fans have a party, I want it with all my heart. Apart from the joy of winning the title, I think it would be a joy for everyone if it ends well,” said Scaloni to reporters in the pre-match conference. “Even though we know it will be his(Angel Di Maria) last game, we will always decide first what is best for the team. If he has to play it’s because he has to play, if we decide not to play him it’s because we think differently,” he added.

“We hope that everything goes well and that Angel can retire in the best possible way. We need to be the best Colombia, the best version, to beat Argentina, the champions of everything. To win against Argentina, we have to be very well-prepared, because they are the champions, it will be a very demanding match,” said Colombia head coach Nestor Lorenzo.

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–IANS

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England will miss Anderson, it's difficult to replace his rare skill: Ian Chappell

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New Delhi, July 14 (IANS) Former Australia captain Ian Chappell believes England are going to miss James Anderson in Test cricket, citing the difficulty to replace his rare skills of swinging the ball.

Anderson finished his 21-year Test career for England as the third-most successful bowler in the longest format with 704 wickets at an average of 26.45 in 188 matches, when the hosts’ thrashed the West Indies by an innings and 114 runs at Lord’s earlier this week.

“Jimmy Anderson retired as the greatest swing bowler the game has seen. There have been many other fine swing bowlers but none have plied their skill for such a long period at the highest level.

“Anderson had that rare ability to swing the ball both ways with very little change to his action. Where other good bowlers gave the batter a clue with their change of arm slot, Anderson was able to produce swing both ways minus the early warning signal.

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“This is a remarkable skill and it made Anderson an extremely tough opponent. England will miss Anderson as it’s difficult to replace his rare skill. Importantly, though, Anderson’s career is now a celebrated one where he’s recognised as the best swing bowler the game has produced,” wrote Chappell in his column for ESPNCricinfo on Sunday.

He also went on to laud Anderson for his hardwork in terms of maintaining his longevity and not wandering from his testing lines and lengths in Test cricket. “Twenty-one years at the top is a tribute to his fitness, skill and ability to learn. There was also his desire to keep playing when big life changes, like having a wife and kids, could easily have surpassed the priority of Test cricket.

“His subtle skills became more obvious as he continued to run in with the same smooth rhythm and produce a probing delivery on a testing line. He continued to do so no matter whether he was bowling to a right- or left-handed batter. That was another skill that set him apart from many swing bowlers – it made little difference what type of batter he was facing.”

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Chappell signed off by praising Anderson for maintaining his patience despite getting no rewards in his stern bowling spells, a factor which he thinks was crucial in the pacer’s success.

“The tributes for Anderson have been many, touching not just on his undoubted bowling skill but also his grumpiness, the changes of hairdo and his stubbornness with the bat. It’s not surprising that he was occasionally grumpy, which resulted in the odd terse comment.

“Most people’s patience would be severely tested if they regularly charged in to bowl only to beat the bat and receive no reward. Despite the occasional outburst Anderson retained his patience, which was partly responsible for his amazing success.

“As retirement loomed, the thing that stood out most in Anderson’s often reluctant comments was his desire to win. This was a crucial motivating factor in his success.”

–IANS

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'Pleasure for everyone if final concludes peacefully', Argentina coach ahead of Copa America final

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Florida, July 14 (IANS) Ahead of the Copa America final against Colombia, Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni hopes for a peaceful match at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens on Monday (as per IST).

Scaloni’s comments came at the heels of the clashes that erupted between Uruguayan players and Colombia supporters after the former’s 1-0 loss in the semifinal match in North Carolina.

“I hope the fans can enjoy themselves, I sincerely wish for that. Besides the joy of winning the title, it would be a pleasure for everyone if the final concludes peacefully,” Scaloni said during a press conference on Saturday.

Scaloni showed compassion in response to the incident between Uruguayan players, recognising the anguish that results when family members find themselves in such circumstances.

“We expect players to set a positive example, but in such circumstances, reactions can be difficult to predict. I hope incidents like these are not repeated. Witnessing your loved ones amidst such chaos must be deeply distressing,” he remarked.

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Speaking on forward Angel Di Maria’s farewell match for Argentina, Scaloni remains committed to the goal of winning the trophy over individual accolades.

“Even though it may be his final match, our primary consideration remains the team’s needs. Whether he plays or not will be decided accordingly,” Scaloni expressed.

Argentina sealed the final berth after defeating Canada 2-0 in the semi-final. Argentina hope to build on their previous finals success, having won the Copa America in 2021, the Intercontinental Cup in 2022 against Italy, the European champions, and the World Cup in Qatar against France.

“Every final has its own unique challenges. We will approach it with determination to win. Every team understands the significance and pressure that comes with a final,” Scaloni concluded.

–IANS

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Euro 2024: Luis de la Fuente claims Spain are not 'favourites' heading into finals

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Berlin, July 14 (IANS) The joint-record winners of the European Championship, Spain will be taking on England in a blockbuster final of the Euro 2024 at the Olympiastadion Berlin on Monday (as per IST).

Ahead of the highly-awaited encounter, many believe that the Spaniards are the favourites given the ruthlessness they have shown throughout the tournament but head coach Luis de la Fuente has stated that ‘there are no favourites’ in the matchup.

“There are no favourites. It’s an even match-up, just as our previous knockout games were. If we are not above the level we displayed in those games, we won’t have a chance of winning — and the same if we make mistakes,” said de la Fuente in the pre-game conference.

Spain have been one of the best teams at the tournament, they are playing with a fun, free-flowing identity, raising their game to a level which we are accustomed to seeing the La Roja perform at.

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They have scored 13 goals so far in the Euro 2024, the highest by any team in the tournament whilst only conceding three goals which has seen them remain the only team that has won all their games so far.

“It’s fantastic to be here and we are excited to be in the final. It’s one of the biggest sporting achievements there is. We are relaxed and looking forward to playing. Sunday will be a complicated game against a great team, between the best two teams [in the tournament], that’s why we are in the final,” he added.

Out of the two finalists, Spain have definitely had the harder road to Berlin. The side defeated Georgia 4-1 in the Round of 16 which set their clashes against Germany in the quarterfinal (2-1) before a 2-1 victory over France in the semi-finals of the tournament.

“These matches, which are so even, are often decided by the finer details. The team that makes the fewest mistakes will have the best chance of winning,” concluded the Spanish head coach.

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–IANS

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