Sporting a bone through his nose, a jaguar’s tooth pendant, multicolored feathers in his ears and tribal body tattoos, not many England fans would give credence to the soccer “expertise” of Amazonian sorcerer Jaraquii, but the striking Paje believes England’s World Cup opener in nearby Manaus today will be cursed by Italy striker Mario Balotelli.
“Balotelli’s magic will help you beat the English,” Jaraquii, speaking to Italian news agency ANSA, said with a serious grin revealing a row of sparkling gold teeth.
“He [Balotelli] is like us colored people. He’s not white, he’s not like [Argentina’s Lionel] Messi. That’s why we love him,” Jaraquii said.
Jaraquii’s local fame stretches beyond his status as a local leader within Brazil’s National Indian Foundation, a government body that establishes and carries out policies relating to indigenous peoples.
Although his tribal affiliation is unknown, by local standards he is wealthy, the rumor is he struck gold on the Parana river where he lives on a houseboat near the city of Santarem.
Although his prediction is unlikely to hold sway with England manager Roy Hodgson, Jaraquii’s believes the emergence of a player who resembles Balotelli and who plays in the regional indigenous championships is a portent.
“For the first time ever the Wai-Wai [tribe] are reaching the highest levels in the league in [the state of] Para, just like the Remo and Paysandu have in Belem,” he said. “There’s a young player in the team who is amazing, a real indian Balotelli.”
He may not admit it, but Jaraquii’s preference may in part be inspired by his dislike for all things Anglo-Saxon.
“I’ve been like that since an obnoxious Englishman, or he might have been American — they’re the same to me — said that he was afraid of me and asked if there were cannibals,” he said.
Grinning widely, he added: “I told him to keep quiet, because we ate them all.”
Dressed like a colonial explorer and wearing a wide-brimmed Australian hat as he rides on a bicycle adorned with a large flag of Brazil, Antonio Batista is just as striking.
Batista’s love for Italy is just as potent, but has been driven by his admiration for Roberto Baggio, the legendary Italy forward who is infamous for missing the deciding penalty in the 1994 World Cup final which handed the trophy to Brazil.
“In Manaus, I’ll be supporting Italy. I’ve loved them since I was little,” Batista said. “I am a native of this region, which has forest and wild beasts everywhere, but I’d give it all up if I could be Baggio.”
Known locally as a caboclo because of his mixed Indian and European heritage, Jaime Rodrigues prefers to look at the bigger picture.
If Italy qualify from Group D and get through to the round-of-16, a possible quarter-final clash with Brazil awaits.
“I’m supporting England because if Brazil meet Italy, it could be trouble,” Rodrigues said.
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