KARACHI: When Brazilian footballers Vinícius Júnior, Neymar, Richarlison, and Lucas Paquetá scored for their side in the first half of a match against South Korea this week, thousands of fans erupted into wild cheers and danced as their favorite team’s entry into the quarterfinals of the FIFA World Cup 2022 was sealed.
The scene of the raucous crowd, with many sporting the classic yellow and green colors of the Brazilian team, was not from Stadium 974 in Doha, Qatar, where the match took place. It was from Karachi’s Lyari neighborhood, whose soccer craze has earned it the nickname ‘Mini-Brazil,’ and where large murals of the Brazilian flag and players now fill the walls and giant TV screens are set up for thousands to watch their favorite teams at play.
Every time the World Cup rolls in, Lyari becomes a “festival,” football fan Habib Hasan, 55, said.
“The people of Lyari love football to the level of craziness,” he told Arab News, standing among a crowd gathered in front of large television screens set up for residents of Lyari and beyond to watch the match.
“People want to watch it in person but they cannot travel there [to Qatar] so they enjoy it here by creating an atmosphere like this … When a match concludes, you will see people in the streets and neighborhoods, taking out rallies on roads, with boys on motorcycles holding flags. They express their happiness by playing dhol [drums] and doing the Leva [Baloch dance].”
Moulvi Usman Park is one of nearly 50 places in Lyari where screens have been installed and World Cup matches shown through projectors this season. For Monday’s game between Brazil and South Korea, even Sindh Chief Minister Murad Ali Shah showed up to watch.
“The match was fantastic. Brazil was playing South Korea and the people of Lyari really enjoyed themselves. You can see the environment, it’s fantastic,” Murtaza Wahab, administrator of Karachi, told Arab News after the match. “The chief minister was here himself.”
Javed Ibrahim, a super fan of former Brazilian legend Roberto Carlos, introduced himself as Javed Carlos.
“I can leave my parents but not Brazil,” he said. “I’m a diehard Brazilian team fan who grieves the team’s defeat and celebrates its victory.”
“When there is a match of Brazil, then you know that the World Cup has really started. Look around you now, the World Cup has started. There is much passion. When the Brazilian team plays, the masses get electrified.”
Many fans regretted that Neymar had to miss Brazil’s last group game at the World Cup because of his right ankle injury, not recovering in time to face Cameroon in the Group G game on Friday.
But they cheered saying that this return helped Brazil thump South Korea 4-1.
“The people of Lyari really regretted that Neymar was not playing the previous match. Now Neymar is here and Brazil has won with four goals,” fan Ali Baloch said.
“I want to see a France versus Brazil final.”
“He [Neymar] is the beloved of our nation,” another fan screamed. “Neymar is our cousin. We love him.”
Behind him, thousands of fans chanted: “Only Brazil, only Brazil.”