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Pakistan hails fairytale champ

Shortage of funds almost denied Asif from travelling to Bulgaria for tournament

Mohammad Asif... world title.

Mohammad Asif... world title.

Pakistan’s Mohammad Asif returned home to a hero’s welcome yesterday after cueing his way to the world amateur snooker title in a campaign which nearly ended before it began.

Pakistan has been desperately short of sporting success stories in recent years and though the amateur championship may not have the glamour and profile of the professional event, politicians, fans and media have lavished praise on the country’s only current world champion.

Asif first beat Malta’s Alex Borg in the semi-finals 7-1 before holding off England’s Gary Wilson 10-8 in Sunday’s low-key final in the Bulgarian capital Sofia – a far cry from the hallowed baizes of the Crucible Theatre where Ronnie O’Sullivan won his fourth professional world title in May – but he almost never made it to the tournament.

A shortage of funds meant the Pakistan Billiards and Snooker Federation (PBSF) had practically given up hope of sending players to the championship until a slew of personal donations allowed Asif to board the plane.

The 30-year-old from the eastern city of Faisalabad, who had never made it beyond the last 32 of the IBSF World Cham-pionship, repaid the donors’ generosity with a fairytale win – Pakistan’s first in the tournament since 1994 when Mohammed Yousuf was the winner.

“I am blessed,” Asif said amid loud cheers from hundreds of fans who gathered at Karachi airport in the early hours to welcome the country’s new hero.

“It’s destiny, I could not have been there at all and here I am with the world trophy, it hasn’t sunk in yet. I hope my success will inspire youngsters and snooker gets the same attention as cricket and hockey.”

Prime Minister Raja Pervez Ashraf congratulated Asif, and TV cameras followed him from the moment he stepped off the plane in Karachi.

Almost all the major papers – English and Urdu – ran editorials hailing his achievement and urging the government to do more to support cue sports.

Before the tournament, Asif declared it would be his last as it was becoming difficult to juggle playing tournaments and running his snooker club to support his family.

“I can’t continue like this, because every time I have to ask for money from my family and it’s time I either play on my own or quit,” he said.

Last 10 winners

2012: M. Asif (Pakistan)
2011: V. Hossein (Iran)
2010: P. Dechawat (Thailand)
2009: A. Burden (England)
2008: U.N. Thepchaiya (Thailand)
2007: M. Atthasit (Thailand)
2006: K. Maflin (Norway)
2005: M. White (Wales)
2004: M. Allen (N. Ireland)
2003: A. Pankaj (India)

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