KARACHI: The winter sun was just about to rise when the stars of world football descended upon Karachi. What happened after the sun went down was downright embarrassing and shameful.
In the twilight hours of Saturday, football legends Luis Figo, Kaka, Carles Puyol and Nicolas Anelka touched down at the Jinnah International airport as part of the World Soccer Stars tour, which saw them play an exhibition match here on Saturday.
Whisked through the immigration, the players emerged from the arrival gate amid tight security and immediately headed towards the hotel.
There was little fanfare at the airport but the football stars would’ve been left expecting huge numbers of football enthusiasts to turn up at a fan engagement event at Dolmen Mall in the afternoon and at the Rahat Stadium in the evening where they squared off against local side FC Karachi.They would’ve been left utterly disappointed.
While a sizeable crowd turned up at the mall, the turnout for the match was disappointing at a venue which lacked atmosphere and arrangements to host players of such calibre.
The tickets were priced at an expensive Rs8000 and only a few hundred came to the game.
The poor turnout saw the organisers announce Sunday’s match at the Hockey Stadium in Lahore between Team Figo and Team Kaka would be open for all.
“It is to uplift the sport of football in Pakistan,” World Soccer Stars organiser Robert Head said in a statement.
The poor turnout was also indicative of Pakistan’s lack of appetite for exhibition matches which see little competitive action.
The match in Karachi wasn’t planned in the beginning but was included last-minute on the insistence of FC Karachi, Dawn has learnt.
Portugal great Figo, Spanish icon Puyol, Brazil legend Kaka and Frenchman Anelka were initially due to stop at the airport exit to give short statements regarding their trip but the tight security meant they only stopped their cars for a fleeting moment, rolled down the windows and smiled for the camera crews lined up at the sidewalk before departing for the hotel.
“We want to contribute to the football [in Pakistan] in any way we can,” said Kaka at a news conference organised in the afternoon. “This is the first step towards that.”
For the six-a-side game against FC Karachi, the star quartet was joined by Pakistan football team captain Saddam Hussain and before the game he said he was excited about the prospect of lining up with the legends.
“It’s a great opportunity for me to play with these players and I’m really looking forward to it,” he said.
The World Soccer Stars event was initially scheduled to be held in April but was postponed after organisers cited a “change in the business economy” of the country.
FIFA World Cup winners Puyol and Kaka, along with Figo and Anelka, visited Pakistan earlier this year as part of promotions for the event.
It is the second time in three years that an exhibition match featuring football legends is taking place in Pakistan.
In July 2017, Leisure Leagues held exhibition matches in Karachi and Lahore which saw Anelka feature alongside Brazil maestro Ronaldinho and Wales great Ryan Giggs.
“It’s great to be here again,” Anelka said at the afternoon news conference. “Over the next two days, we hope to bring the joy of football to fans here in the country.”
Saturday’s showing offered little joy to the fans while the players didn’t have an overwhelming experience either.
Published in Dawn, November 10th, 2019