Football World Cup fever grips one of Pakistan’s poorest areas

Like in India, sport in Pakistan usually means cricket. But in Lyari, one of Pakistan's poorest and most crime-infested areas, football is the first game Photograph:( Reuters )

Reuters Lyari, Karachi, Pakistan Jun 14, 2018, 11.53 AM (IST)

Bare feet kicking a soccer ball down a potholed alley has become a common sight in Lyari, one of Pakistan's poorest and crime-infested slum areas.

The Karachi neighbourhood has often made headlines over the last 15 years for spates of gang violence that have killed hundreds of people.

However, it is also widely known for its love for soccer and the game's star players.

With the World Cup - one of the biggest sporting events in the world - set to kick off in Russia later this week, the notorious hub of drug abuse is now awash with flags of Germany, Brazil, Spain and Argentina flying over ramshackle buildings.

Portraits of Brazilian striker Neymar and Portuguese star Cristiano Ronaldo have been painted onto the walls of Lyari, known as Pakistan's mecca of football.

While sport in Pakistan usually means cricket and occasionally hockey, in Lyari the two most popular sports are football and boxing.

But gang wars, drugs and politics have damaged the sporting reputation of the neighbourhood that has produced some of Pakistan's more prominent soccer players, like Abdul Ghafoor, Musa Ghazi and Turab Ali.

Brazilian coach Romildo Pereira Sanches, who visited Karachi in 2017, was very impressed by the talent on display in Lyari, but Pakistan, which became Asia's worst soccer team when they plummeted to an all-time low of 201st in the FIFA rankings in 2015, has never qualified for theWorld Cup finals.

For the soccer fans of Lyari, they will have to choose another nation to root for when the tournament kicks off on Thursday (June 14).