As the overall spherical of the FIFA World Cup Group D video games kicked off in Qatar at 8.30pm IST on November 30, Mumbai City FC head trainer Des Buckingham’s room within the group lodge in Mumbai was once busier than standard for a Wednesday night. Inviting the team of workers and avid gamers to his room, the Englishman had his bed room’s TV pulled out to the lounge and positioned beside the only there. Two displays beamed the Australia-Denmark and the France-Tunisia fits on concurrently.
“We have an Australian strength and conditioning coach in Danny Deigan who was keen to watch Australia vs Denmark, while the others also followed the France-Tunisia match. At the end of the games, we had a very excited Australian, because Australia went through (to the Round of 16). We also had a very excited Argentinian the next morning,” Buckingham said of his forward Jorge Pereyra Diaz’s joy after waking up to his national team beating Poland later that night and progressing to the knockouts.
This is a World Cup like none other for those plying their trade in the 2022-23 Indian Super League (ISL) season. With India’s top-tier league one of the few around the globe carrying on while the month-long football carnival plays out, the buzz of a World Cup feels a touch different for the players in it. More so as a viewer.
With matches coming thick and fast every week from various pockets of India in the 11-team league, players have not been hooked on to the spectacle in Qatar. Also clashing, especially during the World Cup’s group stages, were the timings; ISL matches kick off at 7:30pm (and 5:30pm on some double-header weekends). Throw in training and other sessions leading up to match days and the World Cup viewing experience is largely restricted to a select few matches for a majority of the players.
For Brandon Fernandes, the India and FC Goa midfielder, that wasn’t the case in any of the previous World Cups that he had staunchly followed in a festive-like atmosphere in Goa. Now while leading FC Goa this ISL season, he has only been able to catch a few matches “whenever I have some free time”.
“The last World Cup and the one before that too, I watched every single match,” says the FC Goa captain. “That vibe was something else; It is like a festival for us in Goa. I would go for screenings and watch the matches with my friends. It was completely different and I miss that this time.”
Ditto with Gurpreet Singh Sandhu, the Bengaluru FC and national team goalkeeper who has been “on and off” as a World Cup spectator this time around. “I haven’t been watching all the games, except when an Asian team plays,” he says.
“For positive, this World Cup enjoy could be very other. It’s laborious to stay monitor of the entire video games for the reason that season is on and many of the video games fall at the similar days as ours. And one of the crucial video games are too overdue to observe; as a participant you want your optimal relaxation and sleep. So as a spectator, it is just a little unhappy from time to time.”
Lallianzuala Chhangte too hasn’t been able to track his favorite Brazil as much as he would in the previous World Cups as training and playing for Mumbai City eats into his fanboy time for the dancing Selecaos.
That’s not to say ISL teams and players have been totally immune to World Cup fever. A lot of them have kept their off days reserved for some football on the telly. The foreign recruits—there are quite a few Spaniards, Brazilians and Argentines, among other nationalities, across all teams—especially keep an eye on their compatriots in Qatar.
Bengaluru FC’s Brazilian player Alan Costa watched a Brazil encounter together with Indians Danish Farooq, Sharon Padattil and Leon Augustine sporting Brazil jerseys. A Spanish player in the same squad had his country’s national flag wrapped around the television while following the La Furia Roja until they were around in Qatar. Buckingham could hear the scream blasting through the room of Mourtada Fall, the Senegalese defender with Mumbai City, when Senegal scored the winner against Ecuador to qualify for the Round of 16.
“The World Cup’s been a good watch on most evenings,” says the Mumbai City head coach. “The pleasing thing is that we have got a lot of the players from those countries (playing the World Cup), which makes it a bit more interesting as well.”
India and their players might be a fair bit away from that prospect, but the Indian custodian draws inspiration from teams like Japan and South Korea flying the Asian flag high in breaking the knockouts door this World Cup.
“For me,” Sandhu says, “when underdogs perform and unexpected results happen, especially of teams representing Asia, it gave me the spring in my step the very next day. You go to the field with an extra motivation, that, ‘yeah, we are part of the same continent. We have played against most of these guys, and if they can do that, we have a good chance as well’.”