Football, Sports

Ronaldinho and Friends: rise of football in Pakistan, the land of hospitality

“Ronaldinho and Friends” with Pakistan Army Chief Qamar Javed Bajwa.

Pakistan was one of the top teams of Asian football until the early 1970s, however a lack of government support and resultant poor infrastructure pushed  the country to 200th in the FIFA football rankings. It is almost the lowest ranking to achieve. However, 40 years later, football in Pakistan has once again started taking strides towards its former glory.

After a long dark age for all the football fans, things have started to change for the better. The recent visit of Brazilian football superstar, Ronaldinho and other renowned footballers including, England’s David James, Holland’s Geroge Boateng, Manchester United former player, Ryan Giggs, former French midfielder, Robert Pires and Portugal’s Luis Boa Morte has made that possible.

Social media went ablaze as the dreams of football lovers in Pakistan turned into a reality when they saw Ronaldinho and all the other international players play their magic in the grounds of Pakistan. Not only was it a dream come true, their visit also portrayed a very positive outlook of the country to the world which may give a future opportunity to Pakistan to host international football matches.

The five players accompanying Ronaldinho and Giggs landed late on Saturday 8th July, on a special plane at the Benazir Bhutto airport and were escorted out of the airport to a hotel in Islamabad under tight security.

They played two exhibition matches in Karachi and Lahore. Ronaldinho and Ryan Giggs led the two teams. In addition to the international stars, the teams also consisted of Pakistan’s emerging football talent.

Ronaldinho, who won the World Player of the Year award twice and was part of the Brazilian 2002 World Cup winning team, said he was on a mission to attract more youngsters in Pakistan to play football. He said he was excited to have played in Pakistan and considered it a great opportunity to help the football lovers in Pakistan get more exposure in the football world.

Giggs, who retired after a long career with United in 2014 and came as a replacement for former England and Chelsea captain John Terry, said he was “privileged” to tour Pakistan and take part in the matches. He said he expected their visit to have a positive impact on the future of football in Pakistan.

Both Ronaldinho and Giggs were of the view that Pakistani youth was rich in football talent and needed grooming and training under a long-term plan in modern academies under the supervision of qualified coaches in order to achieve the goal of being part of the football world.

The players also met Army Chief General Qamar Javed Bajwa who thanked them for their efforts to help improve football in Pakistan. The Army Chief termed their visit a big morale boost for Pakistani football fans and also an opportunity for the country to show the world how safe it was to play sports in Pakistan. Pakistan army took active part in making sure the players were safe and the event went successful.

Ronaldinho-7 won the first match of the seven-a-side series against Team Giggs in Karachi stadium following up with the second win in the second match of the series against Team Giggs to secure a series win at Fortress Stadium, Lahore Cantt.

The first goal of the game was scored by Riaz who was assisted by Boa Morte. Hassan Bashir scored the second goal – courtesy a brilliant assist from Ronaldinho. The first goal of the match was scored by Riaz who was assisted by Boa Morte. Hassan Bashir scored the second goal – courtesy again a brilliant assist from Ronaldinho.

All in all, the “Ronaldinho and Friends” visit gives a very positive air about the future of sports in Pakistan, especially football. Their visit and playing freely in front of thousands of fans is a loud and clear message to everyone how safe Pakistan was. It is now up to the relevant authorities in Pakistan to capitalize on their visit and put their own two cents in help improving football in the country.

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