By Amjad Ali
Islamabad, Dec 9 (EFE).- Football fever gripped the neighborhood of Lyari, in the Pakistani city of Karachi, as thousands of people gather on the streets Friday ahead of the quarterfinal match between Brazil and Croatia at the FIFA World Cup underway in Qatar.
Once known as a violence-prone neighborhood, Lyari is now a hotbed of football fanatics who love and support the Brazilian soccer team, earning it the nickname “mini Brazil.”
However, the violence has now taken a backseat in Lyari, with guns replacing the world’s most popular sport in the narrow streets, which not very long ago was the scene of regular bloodshed.
For many years, street crimes, extortion, kidnapping, targeted killings, political violence and ethnic hatred were not uncommon in Karachi neighborhoods, and Lyari was no exception.
Launched in 2013, an operation by law-enforcement agencies has brought light back to the metropolis, once called the “city of lights.”
During the ongoing World Cup, Lyari residents have turned out in large numbers to watch Brazil matches live on big screens, wearing the country’s jersey and carrying its flag or having it painted on their faces. Victories for Brazil are followed by celebratory fireworks.
On Friday, more than 20,000 Lyari residents have gathered at the Maulvi Usman Park to watch their beloved Samba Boys take on Croatia in the first quarterfinals of the showpiece event.
“We are supporting Brazil today as we always do because we love it,” Ishfaq Haider, 20, told EFE.
Football is as popular in Lyari as cricket is in the rest of the country. Moreover, the beautiful game is slowly making inroads in the country.
Aurangzeb Shahmir, who runs a football coaching academy named “Mini Brazil” said narrow streets with high-rises make Lyari look like another Brazil, and the youth here learn to play on the streets like in the South American nation.
“Brazilian players give short passes, so do our boys in Lyari as they have grown up playing football in narrow streets where they can only give short passes,” said Shahmir.
He said football started getting popular in the 19th century in port cities across the world. Lyari, being one of the oldest parts of the city, used to have local football clubs too.
The working class of the town introduced the football culture there which expanded further with time. The people of Lyari relate to Brazilian players as most of them also emerged from grass-root level.
“Pele and many other Brazilian players used to be workers and so are we,” said Shahmir, adding that these similarities are the reason for the Seleção Canarinho’s popularity in Lyari.
The Karachi neighborhood now boasts of 117 registered clubs, with around 10 coaching academies providing training free of cost.
“We have good players until under-12 but above we don’t have facilities and exposure to compete with international players,” claimed Shahmir.
The locality’s love for the sport also manged to reach the ears of FIFA President Gianni Infantino during Paksitan Foreign Minister Bilawal Bhutto-Zardari’s visit to Qatar.
“I also discussed Lyari’s football potential with FIFA president,” Bhutto-Zardari announced on Twitter.
The widespread love for the South American team has drawn the attention of the Brazilian media as well, with a local broadcaster doing a feature on the neighborhood.