Rajendra Prasad Mohapatra

All roads in Rourkela led to Birsa Munda Hockey Stadium on Friday evening. It wasn’t just a hockey match where India were taking on Spain, it was a festival, a celebration of sporting achievement not just for Rourkela, but the state of Odisha.

Watching thousands of flashlights from mobiles on display in the backdrop of fireworks was breath-taking view as the World Cup got off to a colourful start. In the days leading to the World Cup opening day, tickets for the two India league matches had already been sold out. 

Queue to gain entry into the stadium stretched to about 500 metres. People holding Indian flag chanted ‘Jeetega Bhai Jeetega, India Jeetega’. They sang songs, raised slogans anticipating India’s performance against Spain. 

Youngsters played drums, others danced to it during their waiting time outside the stadium. Parents carrying their little ones on their shoulders marched towards the stadium to witness Rourkela making history. Fans from Wales waved their country’s flag on their way to see them play England in the opener.

Around 180 players from Panposh Sports Hostel also witnessed matches. The record 20,000 seats at the stadium had filled up even before the first match of the day between England and Wales came to an end. 

“It is a big moment for us. This tournament has not only transformed the city, it will transform the lives of the people of Rourkela. We are now among cities that have hosted a World Cup match. It is a matter of pride for all of us in Odisha and across India,” said a young fan Suhas Mohanty, while waiting in the queue. 

There are no guesses on who drew the loudest cheers when the Indian line-up was being read out. Of course, the two stars from Odisha  - Amit Rohidas and Nilam Sanjeep Xess. The huge stadium witnessed the crowd on their feet and at their loudest when local lad Rohidas scored the opener for India in the 12th minute.