"A sweetshop - Nalin Chandra Das and Sons - in Rashbehari has created a World Cup Sandesh, a mouthwatering local sweet made from cottage cheese. The FIFA World Cup trophy and flags of several participating nations on a backdrop resembling a soccer field constitute the new Sandesh avatar."
Kolkata, June 12 - Idols of football stars smile upon the adoring fans from street corners, amateur graffiti artists are busy decorating the walls with portraits of the game's legends and wannabe heroes, and the ever-popular local sweet sandesh gets a soccer makeover as Kolkata gears up to soak in the spirit of the World Cup that gets underway in Brazil Thursday.

The quadrennial showpiece kicks-off over 15,000 km away in Brazil's Sao Paolo (early Friday Indian Standard Time), with India - a poor 154th in FIFA rankings - nowhere in the big league. But the legions of soccer fans in Kolkata, as always, have transformed the eastern metropolis into the second home of the World Cup.

The city, where a one lakh-plus crowd still gathers at the spacious Salt Lake stadium to watch an East Bengal-Mohun Bagan derby match, is in the grip of world cup fever. Offices, commercial establishments, schools and colleges are reconciling in advance to rows of empty benches and chairs over the next one month.

With the matches happening from late into the night to the wee hours according to the local clock, fatigued figures of bleary-eyed people only interested in discussing the moves, misses and marksmanships of the beautiful game are likely to be a common sight on the roads in the coming days.

For the clay potters, renowned for their mastery of making idols of gods and goddesses, the World Cup craze has opened new vistas to show their artistry and make quick bucks.

Statues of Brazilian hero Neymar, Argentina's Lionel Messi and Portugal super star Christiano Ronaldo are the most sought after by the fan associations and local clubs.

At his small studio in South Kolkata's Highland Park, Sukumar Rudra Pal Wednesday finished giving final touches to lifesize idols of icons like Messi, Ronaldo and Neymar.

On Thursday, they were installed on an elevated land in the shape of a chess board at Ganguly Bagan, home to the Argentina Fan Club on the city's southern outskirts. A giant replica of the World Cup created in the vicinity also catches the attention.

This time we have gone all out to decorate our area for the World Cup. We are more enthusiastic because we know our team will win the Cup. There can be no doubts about it. And for a change, the supporters of Brazil will root for us in the semifinals and final as their team is bound to make an early exit, Argentina Fan Club secretary Uttam Saha told IANS. Saha, who has bagged the tickets for six World Cup games, including the semifinals and the final, would be off to Brazil June 27.

In close proximity to the Argentina Fan Club, youngsters rooting for Brazil, have set up their own canopy -- with cut-outs of Brazilian stars like Neymar.

We will watch all the games of the Samba magicians. And we are doubly sure that Brazil will lift the Cup on home soil. And whatever the Argentina Fan Club may say, we will have the last laugh, along with countless other Brazilian supporters of Kolkata, who traditionally favour this side, said a boy in his early teens.

At Patuli, further South, buntings in the colours of Brazil and Argentina adorn the road. A giant replica of the Brazuca - the official ball of the World Cup - has come up on the road between Pauli and Kendua.

At Gopalnagar - an old area of South Kolkata - beautiful graffiti of former and current World Cup greats like Maradona and Messi alongside the flags of Brazil catch one's attention.

A sweetshop - Nalin Chandra Das and Sons - in Rashbehari has created a World Cup Sandesh, a mouthwatering local sweet made from cottage cheese. The FIFA World Cup trophy and flags of several participating nations on a backdrop resembling a soccer field constitute the new Sandesh avatar.

Jumping onto the World Cup bandwagon, a Bengali eatery in South Kolkata's Golpark has lined up a WORLD CUP FEVER MENU with delicacies named after star players, teams and hosting cities. Sample some: None the Wurst for it, Rendezvous with Rooney, Rio Rocker, Cristiano Crusher, Nimble as Neymar, Spanish Armada and Moscow Magic.


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