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     Volume 5 Issue 97 | June 2, 2006 |

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A Nation Divided

Nader Rahman

Pele - his real name is Edson Arantes do Nascimento - first starred in the World Cup as a 17-year-old, going on to score more than 1,000 goals in a 20-year career that included three World Cup victories for Brazil

The Football World Cup is a melting pot of emotions with all the traditional powerhouses hoping to please their countrymen by winning the ultimate prize. For the lesser countries and their people the odd upset here or there would do. As for the rest of the world they simply watch the spectacle. Bangladesh unlike the rest of the world is not happy with just watching and enjoying the "beautiful game". We become fanatics. And every four years we are a nation divided by the yellow of Brazil and the blue of Argentina. In a country were nationalistic feelings run deep, the Football World Cup shows us that maybe the mirror has two faces.

I recently went on a trip to Cox's Bazar and on my way there through the dim lights, thatched huts and countless tea stalls something came to my attention. Every other house, hut or tea stall had a flag raised and much to my amusement it was either a misshapen Brazilian flag or what one could very loosely call an Argentine flag. It is interesting to note that every World Cup season our country goes football crazy, what is equally interesting is that the majority of the country supports either Argentina or Brazil. Why is that?

Diego Maradona idolised by Bangladeshi football buffs

I have come to a few conclusions of my own; the first is that our natural tendency to support Argentina is inspired by one man, Diego Armando Maradona. The 1986 World Cup was the stepping stone he needed to prove to the rest of the world that he was possibly the greatest player ever and here in Bangladesh since 1986, all that we know of football begins with Maradona and ends with Maradona. It is easy to see why here in the backwaters of the subcontinent we idolise him and by association the team he played for, his sublime skills, tenacity and "The Hand of God" are all that we remember of 1986. Since then we have taken the adoration of his team to such heights that one could be fooled into thinking Bangladesh was actually some distant first cousin of Argentina. For a country that has never even come close to qualifying for the World Cup, we are what one could call a nation of neutral fanatics.

What is even more fascinating than our fanatical support for Argentina is the huge amount of support Brazil receives here in Bangladesh. To understand the Brazilian support two factors must be remembered, firstly we have witnessed what will soon be called the golden era of Brazilian football. Three World Cup finals in succession and two trophies to take home, not to mention their status as favourites for this upcoming campaign.

Brazil's World Cup squad in Switzerland for a two week training camp before heading to Germany ahead of the 2006 FIFA Football World Cup

Success begets success and everyone loves a winning team, Brazil is the "no brainer", when all else fails just support the best team in the world, and over the past decade that is exactly what they have been.

Yet there is another reason behind the Bangladeshi support for Brazil, the man with just one name, Pele. The name has become a brand, and his stories of footballing glory have spread far and wide. So much so that even people here blindly idolise him, without ever having seen him play. Supporting Brazil then becomes so much easier, because then one is not merely supporting the team and its players, but the legendary Pele as well.

Argentina and Brazil are traditional rivals in Football and they have both dominated the world stage, they play a brand of football that is flamboyant, electric and very uniquely

Argentine national football player Lionel Messi the next Maradonna?

South American. They are the footballing equivalent of the Harlem Globetrotters, skill, whimsy and salsa is what characterises their football. The Bangladeshi people like to be entertained, and when it comes to sport they do not have much to cheer about. Therefore every four years when the biggest football party comes to town, they are not only entertained for a month, but if their team wins then it will be bedlam. The ensuring party is likely to rival the "carnival" in Brazil.

The build up to the World Cup is very visibly evident in Bangladesh, the flags go up and heated exchanges take place between rival sets of supporters and for one month the country comes to a standstill. The tension on the pitch in Germany will be mirrored in living rooms across Bangladesh, the only difference is that in Germany the players will not only be playing for their countrymen, they will also hold the hopes and dreams of a hundred million Bangladeshis. Whether it is Argentina, Brazil, England or Italy, Bangladesh awaits the next world champions, and for a country that is traditionally Cricket crazy this will be a pleasant reminder that other sports actually exist.

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