Being on the ground in Russia and moving among the eclectic mix of supporters and locals provides plenty of lessons about the natural order of world football.
One, as a lively Sunday night at the official Fan Fest in Kazan demonstrated, is that Brazil remains beloved despite recent disappointments, and will have keen backing wherever they go.
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Five FIFA World Cup™ triumphs and All-Star XIs packed with legendary players whose reputations transcend eras ensures reverence from football fans irrespective of birthplace or background.
And yet, as much as I’m ready to argue “El Fenomeno” is the Real Ronaldo, Switzerland’s gritty effort in eking out a 1-1 draw in an absorbing Group E encounter immediately made Vladimir Petkovic’s unfancied outsiders easier to get behind.
For starters, the Selecao didn’t need any extra help. There were enough cheers for Neymar’s early touches, enough squeals of excitement every time they threatened to find a late winner.
It is, of course, completely understandable for neutrals to be caught up in the immense guile of Tite’s team, regardless of whether they carry quite the same aura as previous incarnations. Club loyalties will always win the more successful nations a stronger following. The likes of Marcelo, Roberto Firmino and Philippe Coutinho see to that for Brazil.
But as someone whose voice remains shot more than 48 hours after forming part of a vocal mass of green and gold at the Kazan Arena, it’s difficult to fathom anything other than favouring the underdog in battles against the best.
Stifling star-studded title contenders with limited resources was a triumph for Switzerland. Iceland’s denial of Argentina the previous day was a watershed moment for an entire nation. And Mexico? Truly inspiring.
The smattering of El Tri fans who somehow happened to find themselves in Kazan, some 850 kilometres from their national team in Moscow, were treated like bigger heroes than Hirving Lozano.
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Aaron Mooy, Trent Sainsbury and the Socceroos came within 10 minutes of joining those ranks with their weekend display and stirred plenty of pride in doing so.
The objective now is to win a few more friends in Samara as the entree to a grander upset that might even momentarily capture the hearts of those who, like Paul Pogba, were perhaps surprised by the electric atmosphere generated by the travelling Aussies on Saturday.
Hopefully, for as long as this ride lasts, Bert van Marwijk’s men will continue to aid their fellow underdogs in convincing neutrals there is beauty beyond Brazil.
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