LYARI: Thousands of Pakistanis in a Karachi neighbourhood once synonymous with gang violence and poverty will mass together to roar on Argentina in the World Cup final on Sunday.
People poured through the labyrinth streets of Lyari in the early hours of Wednesday to watch Lionel Messi and his Argentina side on a giant screen beat Croatia 3-0 in the semi-final.
Wearing Argentina shirts, some broke into song and dance after the South Americans sealed their spot in the decider in Qatar against France or Morocco. Fireworks lit up the night sky.
“Most of the youth are inspired by them,” Tahir Khan, a 40-year-old football coach, told AFP of Argentina’s World Cup stars.
Messi is inevitably the favourite — but they also like his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Neymar of Brazil.
“I see most of the youth wearing Messi or Neymar jerseys. Even at Eid they wear their jerseys… instead of traditional dress,” said Khan.
Residents have brought the World Cup to Lyari, painting life-size murals of their favourite players, hanging flags and bunting, and keeping track of progress on bracket boards marked on walls.
The appreciation of Argentina — but also of fierce rivals Brazil — is not purely about their football skills.
“The Latin American countries are not as (developed) as the European countries but their players are acknowledged all over the world,” Khan said.
Argentina or Morocco?
In one battle for Lyari years ago, gangs infamously used rocket-propelled grenades and assault rifles to fight security forces, with the crossfire shutting schools and businesses.
But the worst of the violence has abated and an increase in security has led to flowering creativity.
The neighbourhood now clings fiercely to its reputation for producing footballers, iron-chinned boxers, and, most recently, socially conscious rappers.
There is good-natured banter between adopted Argentina and Brazil fans.
“We relate to the Brazilians’ (skin) colour and style, that is why we like Brazil the most,” said 45-year-old Shahid Saleem.
“My own favourite team is Argentina but my two sons are staunch supporters of Brazil. Quarrels between father and sons is a daily routine.”
Now a fresh argument looms over Lyari: whether to back Argentina or Morocco if the underdogs stun holders France to reach Sunday’s final.
Morocco would be the first Muslim nation to make it to a World Cup final — a source of great pride for Pakistani football fans.
“Earlier we supported Brazil but they were knocked out of the tournament so now we are supporting Marrakesh (Morocco) as it is a Muslim country,” said Abdul Ghafoor, a 20-year-old labourer and football fan.
Saleem summed up the dilemma for many.
“The prayers of all of Lyari are with Morocco and hopefully they will would make it to the final,” he said.
“(But) I am an Argentina fan, so from this side I will pray for Argentina.”