International footballers arrive for friendly in Pakistan


For many Pakistani football lovers, it was like dream come true on Saturday when eight international players including Brazilian legend and club ambassador for FC Barcelona, Ronaldinho arrived in Islamabad to play a series of friendly football matches.

The football celebrity Ronaldinho, accompanied by Brazil's 2002 World Cup winning teammate, Roberto Carlos, former French midfielder Robert Pires, France's Nicolas Anelka, Portugal's Luis Boa Morte, Holland's George Boateng, England's David James and former Manchester United player Ryan Giggs accorded a rousing welcome at Benazir Bhutto Airport Islamabad.

This is for the first time in last 70 years when Pakistanis will witness the football legends playing on their soil. The first match will be played today, July 8, at Abdul Sattar Edhi stadium Karachi, while the second match will be played in Lahore on Sunday, July 9.

Ronaldinho will lead one team and Ryan Giggs will captain the other side. Both the teams will be a mix-up of foreign and local players.

Talking to local media, the Chief Executive of Leisure football Leagues, Ishaq Shah, said the visit is part of revival of international sports in Pakistan and the tour will help to promote football in the country.

"Ronaldinho will also be inaugurating a football academy being set up in Defense Housing Society Lahore," Shah added.

Pakistan army spokesman Major General Asif Ghafoor also welcomed the international football players and said Pakistan is a peaceful and sport loving country.

The football players will also meet Pakistan's army chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa during their visit and he will hold a reception in their honor.

Pakistan is among those countries in the world who suffered the most from terrorism. The attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team in 2009 has badly damaged and halted the international cricket in the country.

However, recent developments including hosting of Pakistan Super League (PSL) final match in Lahore, recent visits of international legend cricket players Ian Chapell and Sir Vivian Richard to Pakistan and now world renowned footballers have boosted efforts to restore international sports in Pakistan.

Excitement, thrill and jubilation have assembled in Pakistan's "football district" Lyari, a southern district of Karachi, the country's commercial capital. Local football lovers, especially youths describe the arrival of football stars as a dream come true.

"I just cannot believe that I am going to see Ronaldhino and Roberto Carlos playing in my own city. I am sure I will rub my eyes twice to believe that the two legends are actually playing here in Karachi," an exuberant Taha Baloch, a 22-year footballer from Lyari told Anadolu Agency.

T-shirts plastered with faces of Ronaldinho and Carlos are in high demand nowadays in Lyari, where youths took out a rally on Friday to welcome their heroes.

The football-crazy district, which otherwise is notorious for gang fights, and drug trafficking, has produced scores of footballers for Pakistan. Contrary to rest of Pakistan, where every second youth wants to be cricketer because of glamour and money, Lyari youths dream of becoming a footballer despite the fact the national squad is not listed even among first 150 teams in FIFA ranking due to poor infrastructure and lack of government support.

So much so, on the eve of semi final between Brazil and Germany in the last football world cup, the Brazilian national flags were hoisted all over Lyari district.

"We have always supported Brazil. We consider it our own team," Ghulam Abbas, another football lover from Lyari told Anadolu Agency.

"Ronaldinho and Roberto Carlos have come to their own country," he added.

This, he opined, would be a shot in the arm in regard to Pakistan's efforts to revive international sports events in the country.

"We are thankful to all international players who have come here despite fear and apprehensions raised by the international media. It will not only help revive the international sports events in Pakistan, but will also improve the state of football in the country," Abbas maintained.

Pakistan's sports minister, Riaz Hussein Pirzada said: "It is a sign of international sports revival in Pakistan. I hope now other international sports players and teams will soon come to Pakistan."

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