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Football has a big role in easing ties with India: Pakistan captain


New Delhi : At a time when efforts are on to revive bilateral cricket ties between the two neighbours, Pakistan football captain Jaffer Khan believes the “beautiful game” of soccer has a bigger role to play in easing tensions with India.

Sporting ties between the two countries were stopped after the 2008 terrorist attack in Mumbai by Pakistani terrorists. The Pakistan cricket team, however, visited India earlier this year for the semi-final of the cricket World Cup in Mohali.

And now the Pakistan football team arrived here Wednesday night for the eight-team SAFF Cup that starts Friday at the Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium.

Jaffer said it was time for the two governments to use football as a medium of peace.

“India is not an alien country for us. Whenever we play in India we feel as if we are playing at home,” Jaffer told reporters Thursday, on the eve of the team’s opening match against Bangladesh.

“Cricket has been the most popular sport in the two countries and whenever we talk of peace we want to use cricket as a medium. But I think football has a crucial role to play since it is the most popular global sport. In some of the most troubled areas of the world, football is used as a medium to spread peace,” the goalkeeper said.

The Indian football team last toured Pakistan in 2005 amidst much fan-fare for the bilateral Friendship Series.

“There was an exciting atmosphere when India toured in 2005 for the football series. Such series will help both the countries,” he said.

A three-match series was arranged in England but had to be cancelled due to riots in London.

“What is the use of playing in England. We can normalise relations by playing either in India or Pakistan,” he said.

Pakistan’s newly appointed Serbian coach Zavisa Milosavljevich, who was hired last month, hardly felt any difference in the two countries.

“I arrived in Pakistan last month and now I am in India. There is hardly any difference between the two countries. Pakistan will enjoy playing in India,” he said.

Pakistan have been grouped with Bangladesh, Maldives and Nepal in Group B while defending champions India are in Group A with Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Bhutan. The top two teams from each group qualify for the semi-finals.

Jaffer said not being clubbed with India in the group stage will ease the pressure off Pakistan.

“There is always pressure on both the sides when we play against each other. But only weak players fall victim to pressure. We have players in the team who are capable of handling the pressure. If we play well we may face India either in the semis or the final. But I feel an India-Pakistan clash in the final will really help the tournament,” he said.