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LAHORE: Former France international Christian Karembeu holds the FIFA World Cup trophy during the ceremony held here on Saturday.—M. Arif/White Star
LAHORE: Former France international Christian Karembeu holds the FIFA World Cup trophy during the ceremony held here on Saturday.—M. Arif/White Star

LAHORE: The turnout was such that it even left the FIFA World Cup Trophy Tour officials astounded.

“We never expected it to be this huge,” one official told Dawn as the FIFA World Cup Trophy came for a day-long stop to Pakistan on Saturday. “We haven’t got such a response so far [since the Trophy Tour began on Jan 22].”

Even France legend Christian Karembeu was impressed.

“Pakistan has a great number of football lovers,” said the former midfielder who was part of France’s 1998 World Cup-winning squad.

Earlier during a long interview with Dawn on the chartered plane bringing the World Cup Trophy from Chiang Mai in Thailand, he was hoping the Trophy’s arrival in Pakistan would bring the people closer to the World Cup which kicks off in Russia on June 14.

“It offers the fans a chance to connect with the tournament and it’s a great feeling to bring it to the country for the first time,” he said.

The Trophy Tour, organised by FIFA’s top-tier sponsors Coca Cola, saw the trophy make its maiden trip to the country. It also came to the country at a time when the Pakistan Football Federation (PFF) has been banned by FIFA and the game in the country having stagnated.

And with the World Cup Trophy coming here, the fans were keen to make sure they didn’t miss out on the opportunity to show how much they were missing the game.

“This event certainly shows there is great interest amongst Pakistanis for the sport,” said a FIFA official who was in Lahore for the Trophy Tour stop.

A 16-member delegation comprising Pakistan cricket legend Younis Khan, artists, singers and members of the media, including Dawn, brought the Trophy to Lahore early in the morning.

It’s first reveal came on the tarmac at the Allama Iqbal International Airport for a limited number of people with Karembeu bringing out the Trophy.

It was however at the second event where Karembeu unveiled the Trophy amid confetti and fireworks at a plush hotel that left a lasting impression.

“I got goosebumps when I saw the Trophy from so close,” sports marketing consultant and an avid football fan Ammar Haider told Dawn. “I was moved by seeing Karembeu lifting the trophy and showing it to all the fans. It’s a moment that will live with me for the rest of my life.”

Published in Dawn, February 4th, 2018