MOSCOW:It was impossible not to spot him amidst the sea of people who had flocked the Luzhniki Stadium ahead of the World Cup semifinal between England and Croatia on Wednesday. He was like any other fan, visiting stalls, snapping pictures with his three friends travelling with him and marvelling at the architectural wonder that is the Luzhniki. But one of India’s greatest ever players, IM Vijayan had chosen to wear a peculiar shirt to the World Cup semifinals — the blue India one with the All Indian Football Federation logo emblazoned on it.
Vijayan is at his fifth straight World Cup and yet he never fails to be in awe of the spectacle. “You think you would get used to it, but every time I come here, I am in awe,” he says. “The sponsor stalls, the people and the atmosphere — there is nothing quite like it.”
The former India captain arrived in Russia a couple of days ago and is surprised when he hears that the St Petersburg Arena had a lot of empty seats for the first semifinal. “We could have got tickets,” his friends mutter to him. Nonetheless, Vijayan is not complaining — after this, he still has the final to see.
The Argentina fan is disappointed that Lionel Messi and his teammates did not make it to the final. He had a close shave in Brazil four years ago when Argentina did make the final. Vijayan had travelled for the tournament but did not have tickets for the final. He watched the match amidst fans at the Copacabana beach. He did not want to make a prediction without knowing who was going to grab the second spot in the summit clash, but says that France looks ominous. “It will be hard to beat them,” he says.
Interestingly, Vijayan has travelled to all five World Cups with the same group of people — his friends Chandran Nandilath, Gopu Nandilath and M Subair, who are entrepreneurs back in Kerala.