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When FIFA World Cup’s Chinese supplier Adidas failed to keep up with the demand of soccer balls in Rio de Janeiro, a Sialkot ball manufacturing company in Pakistan then stepped in and got the contract.
The 159th-ranked football nation and a country known as a cricketing nation – Pakistan will be exporting the soccer balls for the upcoming FIFA World Cup in Brazil.
It was when he felt the roar of the crowd at the 2006 World Cup in Germany that Pakistani factory owner Khawaja Akhtar first dreamt up a goal of his own: to manufacture the ball for the biggest soccer tournament on the planet.
Last year he finally got his chance – but only 33 days to make it happen.
Factory owner Khwaja Akhtar, who has made balls for the German Bundesliga, French league and the Champions League, is excited with the challenge of being a part of World Cup soccer history.
“It was when I felt the roar of the crowd at the 2006 World Cup that I dreamt of a goal of my own: to manufacture the ball for the biggest football tournament on the planet,” Akhtar said.
“The people were chanting all around me. I just thought, this is the real thing. I was part of the crowd. I never had that kind of feeling before,” added Akhtar.
Sialkot, a town in eastern Pakistan, was once the unassailable soccer ball production capital of the world — exporting about 30 million balls a year, an estimated 40 percent of global production — but India and China have recently caught up.
In December 2013, Brazil unveiled the latest soccer ball for the 2014 edition — the Brazuca — on the official FIFA World Cup website.
The Brazuca features a striking new design and new panel system. Six identical interlocking panels make up the ball’s synthetic surface, thermally bonded to keep out moisture.
The month-long tournament, which kickstarts on June 12, has 32 of the worlds best sides locking horns in the most watched event in sports.
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This year’s edition — spread over 51 days and comprising 74 matches across 13 venues — will be the first after the ousting of its outspoken founder Lalit Modi, who was forced out last year under a cloud of corruption allegations.
The tournament’s future had looked in doubt amid claims of corruption, money-laundering and tax evasion, as well as secret deals to hide teams’ real owners and even links to India’s criminal underworld.
But a massive PR exercise by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) has ensured the IPL has kept its date with fans, as well as sponsors and advertisers hungry for their share of the huge commercial pie.
IPL chief executive Sundar Raman dismissed fears that cricket fans in India, still recovering from celebrations after Saturday’s victory over Sri Lanka in the World Cup final, could suffer sporting overload.
“The success of the Indian team in the World Cup has made it (IPL) more interesting,” Raman told AFP, saying the tournament would “carry on from where the World Cup ended”.
“Fans are already into cricket and celebrating India’s victory. We are confident of building on the success of the last edition.”
This year’s IPL, the fourth time it has been held, will have two new teams in Kochi Tuskers Kerala and Pune Warriors, taking the total number of franchises to 10.
The opening game will feature Chennai Super Kings, led by victorious Indian captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni, and the Kolkata Knight Riders, owned by Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan.
The IPL revolutionised the sport when it burst onto the scene in 2008 with a high-octane blend of international star players, scantily-clad cheerleaders and Bollywood glamour.
Using the short Twenty20 form of the game, IPL matches are usually three-hour events packed with music, delirious crowds and countless television advertisements.
Everything from the time-out to the drinks break is sponsored by companies, earning Indian cricket authorities millions in revenue.
The fourth edition is likely to see IPL bosses reduce the decadent post-match parties, which were blamed by some for India’s failure in the World Twenty20 in the Caribbean last year.
The much-discussed cheerleader jobs — all taken by Western women in previous editions — might be given to locals who will don traditional Indian outfits in place of barely-there miniskirts, local media reports say.
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MOHALI: Vanquished captain Shahid Afridi expects a mature reaction from fans in Pakistan when their team return after going down to India in the World Cup semi-final on Wednesday.
“In my opinion we have played better than 2003 and 2007 when our teams were much better. Nobody was expecting anything from this team. I am proud of this team,” Afridi told reporters.
The 1992 champions have been unable to play international matches at home since the 2009 armed attack on the Sri Lanka cricketers in Lahore and the recent spot-fixing scandal has raised serious doubts about their players’ integrity.
The scandal robbed them of the services of Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and, understandably, few were prepared to bet on Pakistan winning the showpiece event for a second time.
“I think people have realised that we have put in our full effort. We have won six out of eight matches which is a big achievement,” Afridi said.
“We have confidence (in our fans). Our country has backed us so much. People who love you so much can criticise you as well. It’s not a big deal.” Afridi’s counterpart Mahendra Singh Dhoni recalled the fans’ ire when they stoned the cricketers’ houses after India’s first-round exit in the 2007 World Cup.
Dhoni said those were the moments when support really mattered. “We are here to entertain. We have always given our best whether it was the 2007 World Cup or the 2011,” he said. “We don’t really like losing and always give our best. We always need the support, especially when we are not doing well.
“We know when we are doing well, the whole of India is with us. But it’s moments like the 2007 World Cup when you really need the kind of support to boost the players.
“I still remember it took me over a month to get out of that kind of depression,” he said.
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The hugely talented, but unpredictable, Pakistanis have been the revelation of the tournament so far by topping Group A with five wins in six matches in the preliminary league.
The West Indies inexplicably lost their last two games against England and India from dominant positions to finish fourth in Group B with three wins, the same as Bangladesh, but with a superior run-rate.
Shahid Afridi’s Pakistan saved the best for the end when they broke three-time defending champions Australia’s unbeaten streak of 34 World Cup matches with a four-wicket win in Colombo on Saturday.
It was just the tonic Pakistan needed after being stripped of big-time cricket at home due to security concerns in their volatile nation and tainted by an unsavoury spot-fixing scandal.
The absence of former captain Salman Butt and pace spearheads Mohammad Aamer and Mohammad Asif due to the controversy was not felt as the team rallied superbly under their inspirational captain.
Afridi is the tournament’s leading bowler with 17 wickets with his fastish leg-breaks, while seamer Umar Gul has kept the pressure on at the other end with 13 wickets.
All-rounder Afridi may have failed with the bat so far with just 65 runs in six games, but young guns Umar Akmal and Asad Shafiq have shone brightly in their first World Cup.
Akmal has scored 211 runs at 52.75 and Shafiq averages 124 in the two games he has played so far, while seasoned seniors like Misbah-ul Haq and Younis Khan have lent solidity to the middle-order.
Team manager Intikhab Alam, who was coach when Pakistan won the 1992 World Cup under Imran Khan, was delighted with his side’s performance so far.
The former captain attributed the success to “self-belief, fitness and high energy levels.”
“There’s a lot of positive energy among the boys after the victory over Australia and we will take that into the quarter-finals,” Intikhab said. “We are peaking at the right time.”
The West Indies, in contrast, appear to be falling apart just when it matters most.
They were on the brink of victory against England in Chennai when, chasing a modest target of 244, they were comfortably placed at 222-6 before losing their last four wickets for three runs.
Against India on Sunday, they caved in again as eight wickets fell for 34 runs after they were 154-2 and lost by 80 runs.
The West Indies have now lost 18 successive matches against the leading nations, but Darren Sammy’s men cannot afford another defeat in the knock-out rounds.
All is, however, not over yet for the West Indies.
They return to the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Dhaka where they shot out Bangladesh for their lowest one-day total of 58 in the league to romp home by nine wickets in a match that lasted under two hours.
Batting star Chris Gayle and key fast bowler Kemar Roach are expected to be back after missing the India game, Gayle with a abdominal strain and Roach due to illness.
Sammy said he was aware of Pakistan’s threat, but remained confident his team can bounce back strongly.
“Pakistan have done well so far, but hopefully they will have their bad match against us and we will bring our A game,” he said. (AFP)