MANAUS, June 12 – Sporting a bone through his nose, a jaguar’s tooth pendant, multicoloured feathers in his ears and tribal body tattoos, not many England fans would give credence to the footballing ‘expertise’ of Amazonian sorcerer Jaraquii.
But the striking indian ‘Paje’ believes England’s World Cup opener in nearby Manaus on Saturday will be cursed by Italy striker Mario Balotelli.
“Balotelli’s magic will help you beat the English,” Jaraquii, speaking to Italian domestic agency ANSA, said with a serious grin revealing a row of sparkling gold teeth.
“He (Balotelli) is like us coloured people. He’s not white, he’s not like (Argentina’s Lionel) Messi. That’s why we love him.”
Jaraquii’s local fame stretches beyond his status as a local leader within Brazil’s National Indian Foundation (FUNAI), 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 rumour going 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 an indian player that 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.
“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.”
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 — a fellow Indian — is just as striking.
His love for Italy is just as potent but has been driven by his admiration for Roberto Baggio, the legendary Italy striker 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,” said Batista.
“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, meanwhile, prefers to look at the big picture.
If Italy qualify from Group D and get through the last 16 round, a possible quarter-final clash with Brazil awaits.
“I’m supporting England because if Brazil meets Italy, it could be trouble,” said Rodrigues.