From Bangladeshis to Bahrainis, the Argentine superstar’s fans are in Doha praying their hero will lift the World Cup.
Doha, Qatar – When 18-year-old Abdur Rahman stepped inside Lusail Stadium ahead of Argentina’s quarterfinal against the Netherlands on Friday night, he broke down. And at the first sight of Lionel Messi warming up on the pitch, his heart began pounding.
It had been Rahman’s biggest dream: to see Messi play ever since he first became familiar with modern football’s biggest name in 2010.
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“I began following Messi [on television] at the 2010 World Cup, when I was six,” Rahman told Al Jazeera, pausing to collect his thoughts. “I could never imagine I would be inside the same stadium and be breathing the same air as him one day.”
The engineering student from Bahrain said he had been saving money for six months for this day. He came prepared with a Messi T-shirt, an Argentina flag tied around his neck and painted on his cheek, and “Oh Argentina Vamos” on his lips.
“I love the Argentina team and I feel like I’m one of them so I have learned their anthems and practiced their celebrations,” Rahman said before standing up to wave and sing with thousands of Argentines around him.
Argentina have had some of the biggest support inside stadiums during this World Cup. That’s partly the luck of the draw — they’ve played most of their matches at Lusail Stadium, the biggest venue for the tournament, which can seat nearly 89,000 people. But while most of their supporters have Messi’s name and number 10 on their backs, they don’t all come from the same country or even the same continent.
Muhammad Adil and his Messi-loving family are from Kerala, India. They landed in Qatar just hours before the quarterfinal.
Adil and his three siblings, carrying a large Argentina flag, got seats behind the goal. After more than two hours of high-octane action that included four goals, 17 yellow cards, one red card, an on-field brawl and a penalty shoot-out, Argentina prevailed.
The siblings were overjoyed.
“Messi is my happiness,” Adil said with a big toothy grin. “It was surreal seeing him from a few hundred metres away, and I will always carry this moment in my heart.” Adil and his family returned home a few hours after the game but said they would cheer Argentina on from Kerala, a southern Indian state which Adil said was “crazy about football”.