Football legends Ricardo Kaka of Brazil and Luis Figo of Portugal arrived here on Thursday to officially kick off World Soccer Stars 2019 in the country. The World Soccer Stars 2019 will see two Kaka and Figo-led sides play matches in Karachi and Lahore from April 26 and 29. The duo vowed to help develop the “great promise” of football in Pakistan, a country obsessed with cricket and twice banned from international soccer. Speaking at a ceremony at Karachi’s Pearl Continental Hotel, Figo – who came on stage holding a bat – said: “I feel a warm welcome from everybody; there is great passion for football in Pakistan. We’ll come with 10 legends in April to play a match,” he said, inviting Pakistan football coach Jose Antonio Nogueira on to the stage. The two legends — who both played for Spanish club Real Madrid — are in Pakistan as part of the World Soccer Stars tour, aimed at grooming nascent talent through exhibition matches and coaching clinics. A number of sportsmen, including Pakistan captain Saddam Hussain and midfielder Saadullah, as well as media personalities attended the event.Figo was asked whether he supported Real Madrid or Barcelona. “It’s an easy question; I’m a member of Real Madrid.” When asked which of the two Ronaldos – Cristiano or the Brazilian footballer – was better, Figo chose not to compare the two. “Normally I don’t compare players because of different styles. And if you choose one, it seems the other is not important. I have played with both. I can’t choose one.” Figo said his advice to aspiring footballers was to work hard. “It’s important that the government creates opportunities. There is a great promise of football in Pakistan so we are here to help develop the game,” said Figo, who also played for Barcelona before retiring in 2009. Kaka thanked people for the warm welcome, saying it was his first visit to Pakistan. “I have a great impression of this country and its people.” Kaka acknowledged that football was not as popular as cricket in Pakistan. “But we think the door is opening. The advice is to keep dreaming and run after your dream. A lot of people don’t do that,” he added. Answering a question regarding opening football academies in Pakistan, Kaka said he had a small project that he was starting in Brazil. “If it works, then we will bring the project to Pakistan as well.” Kaka, himself carrying a cricket ball, said the pair were “committed” to promoting football globally. “We … have a good impression of Pakistan,” added the 2007 Ballon d’Or winner, who also played for AC Milan and retired in 2017.Earlier, the event’s host Bilal Ashraf introduced TouchSky Group CEO Ahmer Kunwar, who said Figo and Kaka had made a commitment to bring “authentic international football to Pakistan”. “It won’t be easy but we’re here to tell you that football can come to Pakistan,” said Kunwar. “We have begun a journey from 10 different parts of the world.” “It’s a pinnacle concept promoting football, music, culture, tourism and all underpinned by presenting Pakistan’s soft image globally”. At the end of the event, it was announced that American musician Akon will also be visiting Pakistan soon as part of the planned events in April. Earlier, the former Real Madrid superstars arrived in the port city in the afternoon. They tweeted a message for Pakistani fans prior to boarding their Karachi-bound flight. They had announced their planned visit of Pakistan last week through video snippets. The duo are being brought by TouchSky Group, a UK-based player and event management company, which also brought Ronaldinho and several others stars to the country in 2017 in another exhibition event.Pakistan boasted a top 10 place in Asian football until the early 1970s, but a lack of government support and poor infrastructure have seen them sink to 199 in the FIFA rankings. Pakistan was banned in 1995 and again in 2017 over violating FIFA’s rule that all federations must be free of any government and judicial interference in their respective countries. The most recent ban was lifted in 2018, but Pakistan is on the verge of a third strike after the head of its federation refused to accept the results of a controversial leadership election held last month. Cricket is king in the South Asian country of more than 200 million people, which has never qualified for the FIFA World Cup. But a 2017 visit by eight international stars led by Brazilian legend Ronaldhino proved the game is gaining popularity, with younger generations adoring the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Luca Modric. Figo and Kaka backed FIFA’s stance of increasing the number of World Cup teams from 32 to 48 in the 2026 event to be co-hosted by the US, Mexico and Canada.Published in Daily Times, January 11th 2019.