Flags of some nations competing in FIFA World Cup fluttered overhead as boys in a dusty alley in Pakistan’s southern city of Karachi kicked a ball around in a fever of excitement.
The football-crazed neighborhood of Lyari is also known as “Mini Brazil,” and this year a mural featuring the game’s stars, from Argentina’s Lionel Messi to Brazil’s Neymar Da Silva Santos Júnior and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, is taking centerstage.
“The football frenzy here is so great that it feels like the World Cup is being played not in Qatar, but in Lyari,” Waseem Sarbazi, a member of a nearby football coaching academy, told Reuters.
Pakistan has never qualified for a World Cup tournament, but many young people still enroll in football academies to train for hours each day in Lyari, one of the port city’s poorest areas, hoping to take to an international pitch one day.
“We want FIFA to get involved in football activities in Lyari,” Sarbazi added. “They should have an event here because there is a uncountable number of players and spectators here.”
Thousands turned out in “Mini Brazil” last Monday when Brazil played Switzerland, sporting the classic yellow and green colors of their favorite team as they gathered in front of large television screens to the sound of raucous music.
“Very powerful matches and the Brazil match,” said Ashiq Hussain, one of the young players from the academy, adding that he found the matches inspiring.
“I think my favorite team is Brazil. I like the goalkeeper Ederson (Santana de Moraes).”
The fans erupted into wild cheers and danced when Brazil sealed their entry into the knockout stages with a 1-0 win over Switzerland.
“I went for my job wearing the Brazil shirt, and now at night, I am still wearing the shirt during the match,” said another fan, Mohammad Yasin.
“I am going to keep wearing this shirt, whether they lose the match or win. I am not taking off this shirt at all.”
Brazil’s success in that match will draw out thousands more in “Mini Brazil” on Friday, when the team face off against Cameroon. If they draw or win, Brazil will top their Group G.
If they lose and Switzerland win against Serbia, the goal difference will decide the top spot.
“The people here love football,” said Lyari resident Tahir Khan. “Every four years, this excitement flares.”
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