ISLAMABAD Jul 08: Seven top footballers from around the world, including Brazilian legend Ronaldinho and Manchester United great Ryan Giggs, arrived in Pakistan on Saturday 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 lineup, dubbed ‘Ronaldinho and Friends’, is set to play with a group of Pakistani footballers for two seven-a-side matches in Karachi on Saturday and in Lahore on Sunday.
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.
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.
COAS General Qamar Javed Bajwa will also host a reception in honour of the visiting footballers later today before the group flies to Karachi for the inaugural game of ‘Ronaldinho and Friends’.
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.