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Earlier in January of 2019, when the announcement was made that several of football’s biggest icons, including Ricardo Kaka and Luis Figo, would be coming to Pakistan in order to compete in a 6-a-side futsal tournament, I was completely consumed with an air of excitement. After all, what type of football fan wouldn’t be?

The closest thing in comparison to this was in 2017 when Leisure Leagues hosted a similar landmark futsal tournament which featured the legendary likes of Ronaldinho, Ryan Giggs, David James, Robert Pires, Luis Boa Morte and the returning Nicolas Anelka in an event which proved to be a great success.

These were players that represented the highest possible caliber of footballing prowess, and this time around, the standard was just as high. Nicolas Anelka was one of the Premier League’s greatest and deadliest strikers, Carles Puyol had won the World Cup with Spain in 2010, while Luis Figo and Ricardo Kaka had both won the Ballon D’or, and all three latter players had won the Champion’s League with their respective teams.

In addition to that, the World Soccer Stars company had advertised that the internationally renowned pop singer Akon would be at the event too! At that moment, I was absolutely certain that this would be the biggest event of the summer.

However, the event did not pan out as planned and all my hopes seemingly faded away as the event was unfortunately cancelled in April due to security concerns as well as issues from the organizers’ ends.

For around six whole months, there was no whisper about the event, and just as it seemed as if I’d forgotten about it entirely, I came across a T.V report that said that the match would be taking place later that very day – on the 10th of November 2019!

Before I could think twice, I attempted to round up a couple of my friends and arrange for tickets, which were available at McDonald’s outlets. However, after further exploration, I learned that the 2,500/- price tag per ticket had been dropped entirely due to the poor fan response for the showing at Karachi. After I learned that the original price tag in Karachi was a staggering 8,000/- per ticket, I wasn’t even minutely surprised by the lack of spectators at the event. Thus, it seemed as if the World Soccer Stars company were trying to redeem themselves, and what appeared to be their loss emerged as our gain.

The National Hockey Ground in Gaddafi Stadium was the host to the action, as Team Kaka (with Nicolas Anelka) battled off against Team Figo (with Carles Puyol) in a 5-a-side futsal match, where they were supplemented with a whole host of local talent.

However, what still surprised me was that in spite of the fact that the tickets had been made free, there was still a relatively small spectator presence as when the dust had settled, there were around 1000 people in total, covering one side of the National Hockey Stadium. Additionally, one question that came to mind (and one that remained unanswered) was as to why they didn’t utilize the football stadium?

Nonetheless, upon reaching the ground, one of the hosts seized the microphone and tried to pump up the crowd for the historic match that was to ensue, and I believe that most of us personally did our best to cheer as loud as they could in a bid to motivate the players.

And then, the teams entered: Team Figo walked out wearing a deep green coloured kit, while Team Kaka were dressed in bright red. Additionally, lot of credit goes to the players themselves as despite the lack of a large crowd, they did not disappoint with their performances. In fact, many of their moves were major throwbacks to the times in which they dominated in their respective eras.

All those present in the crowd were truly aware that they were witnessing god-gifted icons, as the legends linked up incredibly well with their young Pakistani teammates and created such fluid build-up play that would send a spark of joy to any football fan’s heart.

Nicolas Anelka provided the first assist of the game, and then was awarded a penalty which sent Team Kaka 2-0 ahead. A few minutes later, he scored an absolute banger from outside of the box to give Kaka’s team a concrete 3-0 lead. However, Team Figo wouldn’t go down that easily, and the captain himself hit back with a goal, and then scored another, sending his team one goal behind as Team Kaka led 3-2 in the half time break.

After the break, there was an own goal which levelled the score at 3-3 for both teams, and then Ricardo Kaka burst out with an absolute smasher, something like an ode to his Ballon D’or winning days at AC Milan. Luis Figo, on the other hand, was not prepared to be outdone by his counterpart in captaincy, and he took it upon himself to score one of the most amazing solo goals that I have witnessed in my life – a true reminder of his 2002 glory days with Real Madrid.

At that point in time, goals began to be going in left, right and centre, and I soon lost track of the score myself. Nicolas Anelka levelled the score at 5-5, but that was just before Luis Figo stole the show (and probably the MOTM award, if there had been one) with an audacious no-look penalty, which could only be seen to be believed. Just as it seemed as if Figo’s side had picked up the upset victory, coming back from a 3 goal deficit to lead 6-5, Captain Kaka dug down deep to score his second goal of the match, and tie the fixture at a thrilling 6-6 score.

Once again, the match itself was a pleasure to witness, especially since the tickets were free, but on one end, I actually felt some sympathy for the players. These were one of the most decorated players that the sport has ever witnessed, and for them to visit Pakistan was no small feat. They’ve played in the grandest stages of them all, such as the Camp Nou and the San Siro in front of crowds exceeding 60,000 people, in Champion’s League and World Cup finals; yet for them to come all the way to Pakistan and perform in front of a lackluster crowd of barely 1,000 people was an utter mark of disrespect.

Although the personal experience was as exhilarating as ever, the marketing and advertisement for the event was completely woeful, with many friends approaching me and enquiring about the event as they were totally unaware that it was even happening. In fact, it was only by chance that I stumbled onto the event again after its initial cancellation. Notwithstanding, if football is to flourish within this nation, then proper arrangements ought to be made, and the legends of the game are to be treated with the rightful respect that they have earned.

Also read: Britain in Pakistan

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