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Soccer

Champions League finds its feet in Pakistan

Pakistan is known more for its love of cricket than a passion for football. However, an increasing number of soccer fans there are following this season's Champions League more closely than any test match.

Diehard football fans in countries like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh have always followed the World Cup but, until recently, such an exclusively European football tournament as the Champions League has garnered relatively little attention.

However, football commentators say things are rapidly changing in Pakistan and other South Asian countries - thanks largely to the power of television.

"The live coverage of football matches by prominent sport channels has helped it (the Champions League) to gain prominence. The entertainment factor attached to football is a reason for its increasing popularity," Arunava Chaudhuri, a German-Indian sports analyst, told DW.

Lionel Messi of Argentina, FIFA World Player of the Year 2012, holds his FIFA Ballon d'Or trophy during the FIFA Ballon d'Or 2012 soccer awards ceremony at the Kongresshaus in Zurich January 7, 2013
(Photo: REUTERS/Michael Buholze)

Players like Lionel Messi have contributed in the popularity of the Spanish League in Asia

Omar Javaid, who works in an advertising firm in Karachi, is also of the view that a 90-minute football match has more appeal to those youngsters who find cricket matches too long, even boring. "The Champions League has more fans in Pakistan than ever," he told DW.

For some, football is more about the players than the teams. Barcelona's striker Lionel Messi, Real Madrid's Cristiano Ronaldo, Manchester United's Wayne Rooney, Bayern Munich's Bastian Schweinsteiger, and Galatasaray's Wesley Sneijder all have their fair share of fans in the Islamic Republic.

Who will win the Cup?

Meanwhile, increasing numbers of people have indeed developed strong club loyalties. Fatima Niazi, a 25-year-old student and journalist in Karachi, hopes that Spanish club Barcelona will regain their Champions League title this year after losing in the semi-final last year to British club Chelsea. She told DW that she had been following football for many years.

"Like most Pakistanis, I started with English Premier League (EPL), and was a big Chelsea fan. However, after viewing a few Barca matches, I became their loyal fan," Niazi said. "I support Barcelona because of the style of their play, their history, their players, and the coordination amongst the team. And I also appreciate the fact that they always play fair."

Niazi is of the firm belief that, along with Messi and Rooney, players such as Xavi Hernandez, Carles Puyol, Iker Casillas, Frank Lampard, Kaka and David Villa are the names to watch in the last phase of the ongoing Champions League. "These players contribute a great deal to their teams and are more or less responsible for any match being won," she said.

Manchester United's Danny Welbeck (C) celebrates with team mates Rafael Da Silva (L) and Shinji Kagawa after scoring the opening goal against Real Madrid during their Champions League soccer match at Santiago Bernabeu stadium in Madrid February 13, 2013
(Photo: REUTERS/Juan Medina)

Manchester United and Chelsea are the most popular English clubs in the Sub-continent

Zakaria Zubair, a football fan in Islamabad, is of the view that the reason that Spain's national team are ranked best in the world is because their players play for the "strongest clubs": Real Madrid and Barcelona.

However, Rameez Javed, a loyal Manchester United fan in Karachi, is almost certain that his favorite team is going to win the Champions League. "Wayne Rooney, Nemanja Vidic and Robin Van Persie will make sure that Manchester United lifts the trophy this year," he told DW. For Javed, Manchester United are outstanding because they are managed by Sir Alex Ferguson, who, in his opinion, is the best coach in the world.

English clubs vs. German clubs

According to Niazi, the English Premier League is more popular in Pakistan than the Bundesliga (the German soccer league) or La Liga (the Spanish league) because EPL matches are the only ones that are screened regularly in Pakistan. She told DW that other leagues weren't shown in Pakistan until recently.

Javed thinks that media plays a big role in the popularity of the EPL teams in Pakistan.

Dortmund's midfielder Sebastian Kehl (C) holds up the trophy and celebrates with teammates after winning the German cup DFB Pokal final football match Borussia Dortmund vs Bayern Munich at the Olympiastadion in Berlin on May 12, 2012
(Photo: ODD ANDERSEN/AFP/GettyImages)

Dortmund, which won the German league last year, is not as popular in Pakistan as Munich

"We can't ignore the role of the media in promotion of football. In Pakistan, you will find more fans of English clubs because their matches are also sponsored by corporations. A big cellular phone company in Pakistan, ZONG, is a Manchester United official sponsor in Pakistan," he told.

But both Javed and Niazi like German club Bayern Munich and say they have a good chance to win this year's Champions League. For Javed, that’s because the club has a squad comprising of some of the best German and French players.

"I have seen them (Bayern Munich) play in the Champions League and I consider them to be a tough competition for any team," Niazi said.

DW.DE