The World Cup is arousing high passions in Bangladesh, where machete-wielding fans of Brazil and Argentina have clashed in the streets and flags of the two countries are so ubiquitous that some people want to ban them.
Ignoring the lack of any obvious link to the South American giants, and the absence of their national team — which is ranked 194th out of 211 teams — World Cup fever has firmly taken hold among Bangladeshi fans.
Last week in the central town of Bandar, rival followers of Lionel Messi and Neymar fought with machetes, leaving a man and his son and many others critically wounded, police said.
Meanwhile, a 12-year-old boy died after being electrocuted while putting a Brazil flag on a roadside pole.
Argentina and Brazil flags have been dominating towns in the country of 160 million for weeks ahead of the start of the World Cup in Russia on Thursday.
Supporters of the two teams hold flag processions to show their loyalties. In the northern town of Madarganj, motorcycle rallies are staged by hundreds of rival supporters waving football banners.
“They hold meetings to plan further craziness. You can feel the tension and excitement all over town,” local police chief Mohammad Rafique told AFP.
Some Bangladeshis want to end the fervour, however.
One lawyer tried to get a court order preventing the flying of flags of World Cup nations. Barisal University in southern Bangladesh has banned its 7,000 students from flying foreign nations’ colours on campus.
“The government should totally ban flying any foreign flags across Bangladesh,” university head S.M. Imamul Haq told AFP.
Flag fervour is the most obvious sign of the country’s switch of allegiance every four years from cricket to football.
Even though Bangladesh has never qualified for the World Cup, and has little chance of doing so in future, the country goes crazy for the tournament once every four years.