The fact that I can count down the days to the 2010 FIFA World Cup on my fingers gives me one of the best feelings of excitement ever. While football might not be on par with cricket in terms of fervor and zeal in our neck of the woods, when the World Cup rolls around every four years, even the most dormant of football fans are awakened and make it a point to watch the beautiful game being cherished.
I fell in love with football after getting caught up in the excitement of the 2002 World Cup and it has been a wonderful journey since; comprising breathtaking goals, brilliant tackles and awe inspiring saves.
From June 11 until July 11, football fans across the nation will be glued to their television screens and all eyes will be on South Africa as it hosts one of the biggest events in the sporting world for the first time on African soil. With thirty-two countries participating and sixty-four games being played, the World Cup guarantees non-stop entertainment for its fans.
Hiba, a student from Szabist, Karachi says, “I am excited for the World Cup and just want it to start now! I will be supporting Germany and I really want them to win it this time after coming so close in the last two World Cups.
“A month back, I would have confidently predicted Germany to at least reach the semi-finals if not the final; however, the recent injuries to the players have left me worried. They were already in a tough group so now I just hope they play to their potential and we’ll see what happens.”
The World Cup has a tendency to attract even those who do not follow football as fanatically as some. “I will try watching some of the matches. I'd probably be supporting the underdogs,” says Usman, a student at the Lahore University of Management Sciences. “I’m not a big football fan but I will end up watching the World Cup because most of my friends will be.”
While there is massive support for big teams such as Spain and Germany, a lot of people are rooting for the underdogs too. “I would love to see an underdog do well, especially an African country, and of all the teams, Ivory Coast are the most likely to perform well, even though the competition is stiff for them as they will be facing giants Brazil and Portugal.
“I cannot wait to watch Messi, simply because of his performance for Barca. Other than him, Ronaldo and Kaka are definitely in the spotlight, but personally, I want some action from Van Persie, Sneijder, and Ribery,” says Bilal, a student from the Fatima Jinnah Dental College.
These sentiments are echoed by many others who are looking forward to star studded performances by Ronaldo, Kaka, Messi and Rooney in the absence of the now elder statesmen David Beckham and Michael Ballack.
The anticipation in the country is such that even the arid, coastal strip of the Makran coast wears a rainbow feel as you travel through its ports while the violence hit northern valley of Swat has also been going through football therapy, organising matches to keep the youth busy and distracted. The effect of football reaches beyond the festivities in Pakistan as documented by a report in The News which revealed that during 2006 World Cup the crime rate in Lyari actually fell. Lyari is a heavily populated locality in Karachi, plagued by gang wars and street crime. It is a hotbed of football and home to Abdul Ghafoor, the ‘Pele’ of Pakistan.
So how is it that the football World Cup is so hyped up in Pakistan when we do not even have representation (aside from a few officials at the opening ceremony) in the tournament? When asked, most people said it is largely because football is starting to emerge as a popular sport here, building a bigger fan base. While it might not rival the passion for cricket in Pakistanis, it definitely tugs at some strings.
“It is sad that our country does not qualify for the World Cup but I think the game here is emerging; there are local and private clubs and if the government starts supporting football here, I think we have the potential to be part of the sport at that level but till then I’m happy chanting ‘Viva Espana’ and I hope Spain wins!” says Huzefah from the Indus Valley School of Arts.
Every four years the World Cup also offers restaurants, hotels and cafés the opportunity to cash in on the action and as such the various hotspots around Pakistan are getting into the spirit.
In Karachi popular match viewing spots such as the Sports Bar and Le Grand have made special arrangements for the World Cup and are expecting a big turnout, especially for the later stages of the tournament. The Sports Bar has private viewing spaces, which, people can book in advance. Matches will also be shown at the Rahat Stadium and Sheraton Hotel, which can accommodate large groups of excited aficionados.
Football fans in Lahore will be going to Kaps, the Mall of Lahore and Jinnah Gardens to watch the World Cup.
However, these won’t be the only places hosting big screens and large crowds – university campuses too have made arrangements to cater to the frenzy. The Lahore University of Management Sciences (LUMS) is also a popular spot for the football fans to gather and watch the games on big screens.
Shaukat Hamdani, a LUMS alumni, pointed out that even though lots of people such as himself will be sitting at work when the matches start, there’s always the mini-golf in Lahore to get together at for the later games.
Regardless of it not being Pakistan’s most popular sport, a lot of places are banking on the event to bring big business. The Pearl Continental hotel in Bhurban is one of these places while Café Brabus and Espresso Lounge in Islamabad too are making arrangements to cater to the fans.
One day, we will hopefully have Pakistan to cheer for but until then let us make the most out of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Who will it be from the thirty-two? Maradona’s Argentina? Euro 2008 winners, Spain? The favourite favourites, Brazil? The defending champions, Italy? One of the underdogs? I cannot wait to find out!
By Tabinda Siddiqi for Dawn.com
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