Figo, Kaka seek 'promise' of football in cricket-mad Pakistan

Former soccer players Ricardo Kaka of Brasil and Luis Figo of Portugal attend on Thursday a launch of the football promoting event, "World Soccer Stars 2019," planned for April 2019, in Karachi. (Reuters)
Updated 10 January 2019
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Figo, Kaka seek 'promise' of football in cricket-mad Pakistan

  • Pakistan boasted a top 10 place in Asian football until the early 1970s
  • The country now stands at 199 in the FIFA rankings

KARACHI: Portuguese great Luis Figo and Brazilian star Kaka Thursday vowed to help develop the "great promise" of football in Pakistan, a country obsessed with cricket and twice banned from international soccer.

The two legends -- who both played for Spanish club Real Madrid -- are in Pakistan for a daylong visit as part of the World Soccer Stars tour, aimed at grooming nascent talent through exhibition matches and coaching clinics.

The 2000 Ballon d'Or winner Figo, wielding a cricket bat in a nod to the game's popularity in Pakistan, told reporters in the southern port city of Karachi that he was "excited" to be there.

"There is a great promise of football in Pakistan so we are here to help develop the game," said Figo, who also played for Barcelona before retiring in 2009.

Kaka, himself carrying a cricket ball, said the pair were "committed" to promoting football globally.

"We ... have a good impression of Pakistan," added the 2007 Ballon d'Or winner, who also played for AC Milan and retired in 2017.

Pakistan boasted a top 10 place in Asian football until the early 1970s, but a lack of government support and poor infrastructure have seen them sink to 199 in the FIFA rankings.

Pakistan was banned in 1995 and again in 2017 over violating FIFA's rule that all federations must be free of any government and judicial interference in their respective countries.

The most recent ban was lifted in 2018, but Pakistan is on the verge of a third strike after the head of its federation refused to accept the results of a controversial leadership election held last month.

Cricket is king in the South Asian country of more than 200 million people, which has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup.

But a 2017 visit by eight international stars led by Brazilian legend Ronaldhino proved the game is gaining popularity, with younger generations adoring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luca Modric.

Figo and Kaka backed FIFA's stance of increasing the number of World Cup teams from 32 to 48 in the 2026 event to be co-hosted by the US, Mexico and Canada.

It means "more players and more opportunities", Figo said, while Kaka hoped Pakistan would seize the chance and appear in the World Cup "soon".

Pakistan football team captain Saddam Hussain also met Figo and Kaka, while a host of young fans received autographs and took selfies with the two players.

The two stars will also visit Lahore later Thursday, and are expected to return for exhibition matches and coaching clinics from April 23-26 this year.


Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

Updated 23 January 2019
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Underdogs with bite and sloppy South Korea: What we learned from the Asian Cup second round

  • Can the mighty minnows continue impressive run in the UAE?
  • Or will the big guns start to fire in quarterfinals?

LONDON: Asia’s biggest sporting spectacle has reached its quarterfinal stage — and it’s time for teams to find their A-game. While there are few surprises in the last-eight lineup, the form of some of the big-name sides has been less than impressive. Here we deliver our verdict on the second round.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT — Saudi Arabia’s attack

The Green Falcons started the tournament at top speed. They came in as one of the cup favorites and in their opening two matches illustrated why. A 4-0 thrashing of North Korea was backed up with a relatively simple 2-0 victory over Lebanon. Understandably, that raised hopes that Juan Antonio Pizzi’s men could go all the way in the UAE. Alas, it was not to be as a 2-0 defeat to Qatar in their last group clash left them with a tricky tie against Japan. For all their efforts Saudi Arabia were unable to find the back of the net, the lack of firepower upfront costing Pizzi’s team yet again.



BIGGEST SHOCK — South Korean sloppiness

Boosted by the arrival of Tottenham star Son Heung-Min, South Korea were rightly declared the pre-tournament favorites. They had firepower up front, intelligence and creativity in midfield, and experience at the back. In the four matches in the UAE so far, however, they have looked anything but potential champions. They labored to beat Kyrgyzstan, the Philippines and China in the group stage before almost being shocked by part-timers Bahrain in the second round. South Korea now face Qatar in the last eight and, as Son said after their extra-time win over Bahrain, they need to significantly improve if they are to avoid a shock exit before the semis.



UNDER PRESSURE — Alberto Zaccheroni and the UAE



The Whites owe their place in the last eight to luck more than skill. In some ways that is not a surprise — the hosts came into the tournament without their talisman, the injured Omar Abdulrahman, and on the back of a patchy run of form. But, still, the performances on home soil have been underwhelming to say the least. That was summed up with their extra-time win over Kyrgyzstan, who were playing in their first Asian Cup. It was a far-from-convincing performance and Central Asians were unlucky not to beat Zaccheroni’s side. The UAE will have to deliver their best performance for some time if they are to progress further. Their opponents, Australia, have also performed poorly, which may offer them some encouragement.



BEST HIGHLIGHT — The mighty minnows

The big guns have not had it all their own way. That may annoy their fans, but it does show that Asian football is improving. Only a few years ago the idea that Kyrgyzstan, Bahrain and Jordan would look the equals of Australia and Co. would have seemed fanciful. But in the past two weeks the standard shown by the so-called lesser lights has been impressive — and great to watch. Last summer five Asian teams appeared at the World Cup for the first time and it was hoped that showing would act as a springboard for further progress across the continent. On the evidence of the action in the UAE that wish could be coming true.

 

PREDICTIONS