Pakistan’s ‘Little Brazil’ finds solace in football

Pakistan may not be close to qualifying for the World Cup anytime soon but there's no doubt football is having an influence on the nation's youth throughout the country.

None more so than in Lyari, a suburb in the city of Karachi which is synonymous with killings, kidnappings and gang warfare while residents dare not venture out at night.

But in a country which is mad about the sport of cricket, it is football which provides a solace for the locals in Lyari, which has earned the nickname 'Little Brazil'.

There are nearly 100 registered clubs, over 10 pitches and two stadiums in an area home to 600,000 people.

Such is their love for the game that crime rate is virtually non-existent during the FIFA World Cup Finals, as all eyes are glued to the giant screens around the neighbourhood, especially when the Brazil national team are in action.

Lyari is seen as a hotbed for talent, with youngsters putting aside thoughts of getting involved in gang violence and engaging in activities such as drug abuse, honing their skills and looking to emulate Munir Aftab.

The 15-year-old, who hails from the streets of Lyari, captained Pakistan to success in the South Asian Football Federation Under-16 Championship in Nepal last year.

Aftab's love for the game came from his dad and brothers and he believes that focusing on football has kept him away from the troubles which plight the locals.

“Because of my focus on football, my mind has never wandered off to other things like drugs or violence. Playing football runs in my blood. I just want to play forever,” Aftab told reporters. “I know I am chasing my dream. But it’s not easy.”

Local coach Ahmed Jan owns one of the stadiums in Lyari. He is under no illusion of the troubles which exist in the region, especially without government help.

But he has witnessed the power of football in bringing together rival factions.

"The kids who come and play at this ground don't care which sect you belong to, what your background is. They all bond for the love of football."

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