For the love of foot­ball: In­dian sport­stars bit­ten by the World Cup bug.

In­dian sport­stars are also bit­ten by the World Cup bug. They tell us about their ex­pec­ta­tions from the tour­na­ment and their favourites.

Sportstar - - COVER STORY -

“I have al­ways fol­lowed the World Cup. This time I will watch in bits and pieces till it gets ex­cit­ing in the later stages of the tour­na­ment. There have been many clas­sic matches in the World Cup, but I can never for­get the 2006 fi­nal in Ger­many, when Italy beat France on penal­ties. It was also the match where Zi­dane got a red card for head­but­ting Mat­er­azzi. That was sad re­ally. I have backed Brazil al­ways. My favourites are Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, Ney­mar Ju­nior and An­thony Mar­tial.”

– Yu­vraj Singh, crick­eter

“Hon­estly, I am not a big foot­ball fan, but when I learn there is a great con­test com­ing up, I don’t miss it. I have not watched foot­ball at the ground, but it is fun to watch on TV with friends. The World Cup, I know, is a great stage for en­ter­tain­ment and I am also go­ing to catch up on some matches. The fi­nal of the last World Cup when Ger­many beat Ar­gentina was a thriller. Also, the 7­1 de­struc­tion of Brazil by Ger­many. It broke mil­lions of hearts. I will back Ger­many to re­tain the ti­tle. They are a com­plete side. When it comes to a player, I think Messi tow­ers over the rest.”

– Shikhar Dhawan, crick­eter

“I was plan­ning to visit Rus­sia for the World Cup, but that will not be pos­si­ble be­cause of the busy sched­ule. But I will def­i­nitely watch all the games of Brazil. I have been a big fan of the side and will be root­ing for its vic­tory.”

– Kuldeep Ya­dav, crick­eter

“I have been a big fan of foot­ball and will cer­tainly watch all the matches dur­ing the World Cup. But then, I don’t have any par­tic­u­lar team as a favourite. Once the tour­na­ment be­gins maybe we will get to see some in­ tense ac­tion on the field. Most of the play­ers have been do­ing well on the club cir­cuit and I hope they de­liver for their re­spec­tive coun­tries. But, as I will re­main glued to the tele­vi­sion, I also want to see an In­dian team par­tic­i­pat­ing in the World Cup some time soon. I know it is a tough task, but then, you never know what will hap­pen in the next few years.”

– Vi­jen­der Singh, boxer

“I will keep an eye on Ar­gentina. With Lionel Messi around, the team will cer­tainly be hop­ing to clinch an­other World Cup ti­tle. And, as a fan, I would want Messi to have the last laugh. He has won it all in the club tour­na­ments, and let’s hope he can recre­ate the magic for Ar­gentina.”

– Ga­gan Narang, shooter

“I don’t miss an op­por­tu­nity to fol­low the games. In fact, for the last World Cup I was lucky to be in Brazil on an in­vi­ta­tion and had the op­por­tu­nity to meet the great Pele. I plan to be in Rus­sia this time, too. I have seen quite a few matches live in Eng­land, but go­ing to Rio was a great ex­pe­ri­ence. Ar­gentina is my favourite team for their at­tack­ing style of foot­ball. I can walk miles to watch Messi. What a foot­baller!”

– Harb­ha­jan Singh,

crick­eter

“I have al­ways been a sup­porter of Italy. It is a bit sad­den­ing to not have the Az­zurri in the tour­na­ment this time. How­ever, I will watch the World Cup and keep an eye on Brazil, Ar­gentina and Ger­many.”

– Wrid­dhi­man Saha,

crick­eter

“I don’t re­ally re­mem­ber watch­ing the World Cup, but at times I do watch. There are a lot of good play­ers, but for me the favourite would be Ron­aldo.”

– P.V. Sindhu, bad­minton player

“(The first time I watched the World Cup) was in 1986. I vividly re­mem­ber the ge­nius of Ar­gen­tine su­per­star Diego Maradona writ all over the edi­tion. And that fa­mous or rather in­fa­mous ‘Hand of God’ goal, too.

“I played for Andhra Pradesh state in foot­ball and that helped me to be a bet­ter goal­keeper in hockey, too. But for the ac­ci­dent on Tank Bund which left 15 stitches on my chin and made me miss the Ju­nior Fed Cup, I would have been a foot­baller.

“I am a huge fan of Cris­tiano Ron­aldo, who can score goals from any an­gle. So, I would love to see Por­tu­gal win the Cup.”

– Aloy­sius Ed­wards, hockey player

“I have al­ways been a big fan of the sport. It takes you to a dif­fer­ent world when some of the best in the busi­ness show­case their skills and try to help their na­tional teams win the cham­pi­onship. The long wait of four years to have a go at the Cup is per­haps what makes this so spe­cial to watch.

“My [first] mem­o­ries [of the World Cup] go back to the 2002 edi­tion, when I re­mem­ber watch­ing all the games from the first round it­self. A truly fan­tas­tic ex­pe­ri­ence. Well, those were the days when I used to be lost in a dif­fer­ent world. So many fas­ci­nat­ing con­tests you could watch. Those mo­ments of Brazil beat­ing Ger­many 2­0 in the fi­nal for a record fifth ti­tle are frozen in my mem­ory. Ron­aldo’s bril­liance un­der cap­tain Cafu was truly spe­cial... Frankly, I would like Brazil to win the Cup again. There is a unique charm in the way they play their game. They are my favourite team even this time around.

“When it comes to in­di­vid­ual play­ers, the Ar­gen­tine ge­nius Lionel Messi is clearly my favourite. I am sure he will give his best to make it truly mem­o­rable for his na­tional team even as I look for a Brazil­ian treat this time around.”

– Saketh My­neni, tennis player

“I have been watch­ing the World Cup since the 1994 edi­tion in the USA, and I vividly re­mem­ber the fa­mous Brazil­ian team win­ning the Cup thanks to the bril­liant dis­play by the for­ward line of Ro­mario, Leonardo and Be­beto. Truly un­for­get­table im­ages on TV. There was a unique charm in stay­ing awake till late in the night [early morn­ing for In­di­ans] to watch some of the greats of foot­ball bat­tle it out... Yes, Roberto Bag­gio miss­ing a penalty, is one of those things which can­not be eas­ily for­got­ten. My favourite team for the 2018 World Cup will be Bel­gium. I would love this team to win, for it has never won the cham­pi­onship. Some­how I have a feel­ing that this team can go the dis­tance and chal­lenge the best. Kevin de Bruyne is my favourite [player] for his amaz­ing skills. He plays for Manch­ester City as a mid­fielder and I am sure he will carry the hopes and as­pi­ra­tions of mil­lions of Bel­gians on his shoul­ders. He is a treat to watch when in full flow. Not for noth­ing is he rated as one of the most com­plete foot­ballers of the mod­ern era.”

– Paru­palli Kashyap, bad­minton player

“I have been watch­ing the World Cup since 1978 as an ar­dent fan and as a foot­baller. My favourite team of the 2018 World Cup will be Ar­gentina or Brazil be­cause I’m a fan of Messi, who may be play­ing his last World Cup, and as for Brazil, they have won the Cup five times.”

– Vic­tor Amal­raj, for­mer In­dia foot­ball cap­tain

“When I find time in be­tween my matches [I’ll watch the World Cup]. It’s a very spe­cial event and the at­mos­phere is go­ing to be great. I was in Europe – Ger­many – for train­ing when I watched the 2010 World Cup match be­tween Ger­many and Eng­land, and Ger­many won that match. And that was the first and only time I saw cars honk­ing all the way cel­e­brat­ing that win. My favourite for the World Cup is Ger­many, be­cause I have been there of­ten and many of my friends fol­low soc­cer very in­tensely. And my favourite player is Thomas Mueller.

– Vishnu Vard­han, tennis player

VI­JAY LOKAPALLY, SHAYAN ACHARYA AND

V. V. SUBRAH­MANYAM

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