Sunday, July 10, 2016

Goan hearts still beat for Portugal By Marcus Mergulhao

Euro 2016 came too soon for Marietta Bar and Restaurant.
A famous joint in the heart of the city, Marietta recently received a fresh coat of paint and all those posters of football superstars that adorned those walls had to be set aside. Ahead of the Euro 2016 final between Portugal and France on Sunday, proprietor Eusebio D'Souza - himself named after Portugal's greatest footballer of all time before Cristiano Ronaldo - is now pulling out the posters but will not be able to give his restaurant the look that made it so popular with football enthusiasts.

"It will be such an exciting night. Our hearts will always beat for Portugal," said Eusebio.

Eusebio's father, Moti, started the restaurant in 1964 and named it after his daughter; he also started an inter-village football tournament called Marietta Cup and until his death four years ago, was among Portugal's most ardent supporter in the state, naming dishes after footballers. Portugal's superstar players, and those from Brazil, grabbed attention while fish, curry and rice was named after local favourite, Bruno Coutinho.

"Goa is supporting Portugal. Wherever I go, everyone tells me that they are confident that Portugal will win its first major football trophy. Of course we know what happened at Euro 2004 but this night could be different," said Coutinho, former India captain and Arjuna awardee.

As Bruno pointed out, this tiny coastal state is gripped by football fever and as Portugal take on the might of hosts France in what was predicted an unlikely final, fans are not surprisingly rooting for their former colonial rulers. The Portuguese ruled Goa for over 400 years until the early 1960s.

"Goa has a close bond with Portugal. Over the years, Goa has had several tie-ups with Portugal and when it comes to football, they've always offered to help. Goa's support for Portugal, at least for the Euro final, will be total," said Savio Messias, president of the Travel and Tourism Association of Goa (TTAG) and former secretary of the Goa Football Association (GFA), the body that was started by the Portuguese to govern football in the state.

"I've always been fascinated with the way Portugal play. It's pleasing to the eye. As a kid I saw Portuguese play football and since then the love affair continues," said Goa's first Arjuna awardee Brahmanand Shankhwalkar.

His daughter, Vaishnavi, will stay awake on Sunday night to back Portugal despite not being a football fan, and brother Ravindra forever keeps Portugal close to his heart: his mobile's ring tone is A Portuguesa, the Portuguese national anthem.
Portugal's passage to the final is good for business too. Atish Angley, who runs a sports goods shop, confirms Portugal's jersey are selling like hot-cakes.

"The only problem is I don't have enough. Nobody thought they would reach so far," he said.

Despite boasting great players down the years, Portugal have never won a World Cup or European crown. That could all possibly change on Sunday, and even if it does not, Goa's love-affair with Portugal will continue.

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