Pakistan may not have qualified for the 2018 FIFA World Cup in Russia but Pakistanis have a special reason to celebrate this year.
Pakistan, ranked 198th according to FIFA rankings, is still represented in all the matches of the World Cup through Telstar18.
Telstar18, which is made in Pakistan, is the official match ball of all the FIFA World Cup matches this year, making over 200 million Pakistanis feel their presence in every match of the World Cup.
Interestingly, this is not the first time that this is happening. Pakistan has supplied hand-stitched footballs for almost all the World Cups from the 1990s to 2010. Pakistan has also been the proud producer of the first thermo-bonded ball, 'Brazuca' for the 2014 FIFA World Cup held in Brazil.
Telstar18 is designed by Adidas and produced in Sialkot in Punjab province by Forward Sports. The design of the ball is based on the concept of first Adidas' World Cup match ball, which was named after its resemblance to the original Telstar communications satellite.
Forward Sports also produces footballs for the German Bundesliga, France Ligue 1 and the Champions League and was the official football provider of 2014 World Cup in Brazil.
Sialkot, Pakistan's 12th most populous city, is the world's largest producer of hand-sewed footballs, with local factories manufacturing around 60 million footballs per year.
The name of the official match ball for FIFA 2018 World Cup, Telstar18, was revealed last year at the official ceremony in Moscow by Argentine's star footballer Lionel Messi.
Recently, a video by Russian state space agency became viral on social media in which two Russian cosmonauts Anton Shkaplerov and Oleg Artemyev were seen along with the Sialkot-manufactured football in the International Space Station.
FIFA acknowledged Pakistan's contribution to the World Cup 2018 by inviting 15-year-old Pakistani boy Ahmed Raza to conduct the coin-toss for match between Brazil and Costa Rica on June 22, 2018.
Raza, who hails from Sialkot, is the son of Shabbir Ahmed, a football-maker whose family has been stitching footballs for World Cup for three generations.
Ahmed's love for football and his journey from his hometown Sialkot to the FIFA World Cup stadium will also be documented by Coca-Cola which has collaborated with two-time Academy Award-winning Pakistani film-maker Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy.
By LN Mallick
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