This time the venue wasn’t Camp Nou. Nor was the football wizard wearing the Blaugrana strip. Nor was he pitched against Iker Casillas.
This time it was a blue astro-turf, at the Abdul Sattar Edhi Hockey Stadium where the crowd in a furor was raging for the number 10, who was leading the R-7. Yes, a football dreamer’s epic fantasy would be to see Ronaldo de Assis Moreira in the flesh, popularly known as, Ronaldinho. To see him taking a penalty in a Pakistani field is anything but a utopian moment.
The number 10, donning a blue jersey, was aiming a penalty against England’s former goalkeeper, David James. Is this a chapter out of a fairytale?
For all those who were present on the field where action was seen live have lived and breathed through non-fictional air, having witnessed sports history being made on the eves of July 8 and 9 in Karachi and Lahore, respectively.
Queues of young Messis, Iniestas, Ronaldos, Hazards, to each their own favourite, donning their football jerseys and cleats were seen heading to the venue, walking from afar. With utmost measures of security taken by the Army, the venue was wrapped in rioting colours by the young and old alike, aiming to catch a glimpse of the stars they have rooted for in World Cup matches as well as Olympic games.
Entering the stadium, a fluffy canopy of white clouds had made the horizon pleasant, making it just the right day for a match of Ronaldinho 7 against a Welshman’s 7.
Spending hour-long in queues that went beyond the vicinity of the stadium, kids accompanied with parents, grandparents and groups of college-goers along with football buffs from other parts of the country had come to the city only to witness the beautiful game and those who had given a magnetic touch to football fields around the world with their artistic footwork.
While one could see a 14-year-old Muller running down the steps to a clique of friends bringing in the Brazilian flag, sights of souls engulfed in merrymaking
were erupting from all fours.
A troop of kiddies arrived in chuckles, chanting ‘Ole-le, Ola-la’ with an FC Barcelona banner and were too selective about the seats they were to sit in for they wanted a panoramic view, after all it were their “best men out there in the ground”.
As the lazer show ended, the first one ever held in Pakistan, the ground erupted in vocal fireworks as the site of Brazil’s marquee player stepped out in the ground, accompanied by former Manchester United and Wales winger, Ryan Giggs, Frenchmen Nicolas Anelka and Robert Pires, former English goalkeeper David James, Portugal’s Luis Boa Morte and Dutch player, George Boateng.
From one end all one could hear was ‘Dinho’ as the practice was ongoing before the game started based on rules of futsal.
After the two exhibition matches played in Karachi and Lahore by the visiting players, Giggs felt football is big in the country.
“It’s a good chance to promote football around the world. This is a great opportunity for Pakistani fans to see football players in the flesh and in their home country,” Giggs, who can bowl too, said. “We want to give a message that Pakistan is a safe country to visit. Football is huge here especially with the younger generation. I think Pakistan are at 200 in the world, so to bring it down you need infrastructure and also the best coaches in the world to teach the players how to play,” he further added.
As for the Brazilian and Barca genius, he alone was not happy to be in Pakistan. “Not only myself but everyone is happy to play in Pakistan and hope to provide a good show.”
The football stadium’s vibrancy didn’t only stay within the vicinity, but it spread to social media too, which was raging with trends and hashtags, the likes of which included ‘UniteForFootball’ and countless live stories could be found on Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.
Anelka, the French Muslim player, who wanted to visit Muslim heritage sites of the country, had a formula for all those who wanted to excel at the game. “If you want to be a good footballer, be focused, believe in yourself as it’s not an easy game,” he said.
With the two games played, both won by the supremo of joga bonito, the trophy was handed to the Brazilian after his team won the first match 2-1 in Karachi and the second, in Lahore’s Fortress Stadium, 2-0. He tweeted a picture of himself, with the winner’s trophy, thanking the organisers and the citizens of the country.
It was a day oozing with match stats, one debating if Barca is better or Manchester United, while on the other end, a Gunner was rooting for James and every time the former goalkeeper would return the gesture with a fist pump.
All those who witnessed the man fixing his bandana in point blank range to dancing to the vocals of Ali Azmat, while Giggs dribbled past the field with a sphere he wraps his magic with, have seen the men who have made history in the world of football in their own stadiums. •