Defending champion Germany does not face the pressure to win which South American nations have to overcome, observed Baichung Bhutia in a discussion about football’s biggest event, set to start in Russia next month.
The ex-India captain and one of the experts on the Sony Pictures Networks India (SPN) panel for the event telecast, explained: “There is so much passion (for football) in South America and you know from history about Colombia and the famous Andes Escobar incident, it is a very dangerous situation. Brazil and Argentina share a similar feeling among the people back home. People take it (World Cup results) too passionately, whereas in Europe, people may be are as passionate as any other nation, but tend to understand defeat as well.”
Replying to a query about how footballers from Brazil and Argentina cope with such pressure to win, he said: “The players from Brazil or Argentina belong to top clubs, whether a World Cup game or any big match, their approach is the same and since they are professionals, have the top-class quality.”
The former India striker hoped Argentina will succeed this time, for the sake of Lionel Messi. “Russia 2018 may be his last World Cup and he deserves to go after winning a big title for his nation.” Russia as the host has the motivation to advance from the group stage, he quipped: “Knowing the kind of fan following for the game and pressure from them, Russian players will be pushed to do more. The team has the players to advance from the group, progress beyond that I am not sure.”
Russia is in Group A, clubbed with Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Uruguay at the competition. Asked about the possibility of players like Mohammad Salah, in peak form for Liverpool, extending performances to the World Cup, he pointed out the World Cup was a different ball game for the Egyptian. “Salah will bear a huge responsibility and expectations for sure. It is unfair to compare Liverpool in club competitions and Egypt in World Cup. The support and system around him at Liverpool is different from playing for the national side. He might not get the kind of support available at the club, Salah will have to be really good to reproduce the kind of performance.”
The African nation is returning to World Cup stage for the second time, last one was 28 years ago (1990 Italy).
Italy is the biggest name missing from Russia 2018 after failing to qualify, along with Chile. Bhutia is of the view that new teams can be expected to produce bigger surprises than a former World Cup winner not qualifying. “Italy and Chile not playing is a strange feeling. Once the World Cup starts, we will find new teams which actually surprise bigger nations, the excitement won’t get affected by the absence of some teams. The game is bigger than everything else.”
Iceland in Group D, along with Argentina, can pull of surprise results. He tipped Belgium to be the surprise packet.
Bhutia was present for the launch by SPN of a build-up campaign in four languages, named ‘Meri Doosri Country’ features three films about Indian fans rooting for a World Cup team. The first one is about a student from Pune in Goa rooting for Portugal, a Kerala couple supporting Brazil and a father-son duo in Bengal cheering for Argentina in continuation of a family tradition. The Sony channels will broadcast the 2018 edition of the quadrennial event.
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