ISLAMABAD: Seven top footballers from around the world, including Brazilian legend Ronaldinho and Manchester United great Ryan Giggs, arrived in Pakistan for two exhibition matches.
Brazilian hero Ronaldinho, former Manchester United stalwart Ryan Giggs, former England goalkeeper David James, Dutch star George Boateng, former French players Robert Pires and Nicolas Anelka, and Portuguese player Luis Boa Morte reached Islamabad early Saturday morning via a private jet.
Brazil and Real Madrid great Roberto Carlos did not travel with the group.
The foreign players reached Karachi from Islamabad and were shifted to the hotel under stringent security measures.
Pakistani football stars: Mohammad Rasool, Mohammad Essa, Aziz, Razik, Mohammad Adil, Adnan, Mohammad Ali and Ahmed along with foreign players: Nicolas Anelka, George Boateng and David James will play in the Ryan Giggs` team.
Meanwhile, Yousuf Butt, Saddam Hussain, Kaleemullah, Saadullah, Hassan Bashir, Riaz, Kamran along with Boa Morte, Robert Pires will feature in ‘Ronaldinho-11’.
Ronaldinho, 37, who won the World Player of the Year twice and was part of the 2002 World Cup winning team, said he is on a goodwill mission aimed at inducing youngsters to play the game.
“I am excited at the prospect of playing in Pakistan,” he said in a statement.
“This is a great opportunity for us to induce youngsters in Pakistan and we will do our best to do that.”
Giggs, who retired after a long career with United in 2014, said he was “privileged” to take part. He replaced former England and Chelsea captain John Terry, who pulled out due to new commitments with English side Aston Villa.
Chief of Army Staff General Qamar Javed Bajwa met with Ronaldinho and his fellow international football players at Army House before the players left for Karachi, said the Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) in a statement.
General Bajwa thanked the players for visiting Pakistan and said Pakistan as a country is peace loving and loves sports.
“Sports promote peace and your visit is most welcomed by all Pakistanis especially young footballers,” said the army chief.
The footballers also thanked Gen Bajwa for organizing their tour and continued support and said Pakistan is a beautiful country and they look forward to enjoying the trip.
The Pakistan Army is providing security for the players and matches, deploying troops in and around hotels, airports and stadiums over the weekend, officials have said.
Pakistan boasted a top place in Asian football until the early 1970s, but a lack of government support and poor infrastructure helped push them to as low as 200th in the FIFA football rankings.
The game is growing in popularity once more, however, even in a country obsessed with cricket.
“It´s a great occasion,” said Pakistan team captain Kaleem Ullah, who also played for Sacramento Republic FC in USA and Kyrgyzstan´s FC Dordoi Bishkek. He will take part in one of the matches.
Fans in the football-mad Lyari neighbourhood of Karachi said they had spent their savings on tickets. “I want to have a glimpse of Ronaldinho,” said a young fan.
Other Pakistani players in action with ‘Ronaldinho and Friends’ will be Saddam Hussain, Saadullah, Yousuf Butt, Abdul Aziz, Muhammad Essa, Ghulam Rasool, and star of street child football team Mohammad Razzik.
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The 2018 Boao Forum for Asia (BFA) annual conference is scheduled for April 8 to 11 in Boao, Hainan Province. The forum will be themed "An Open and Innovative Asia for a World of Greater Prosperity."
— The Daily Mail - People's Daily