As Argentina take on Saudi Arabia today, their mercurial skipper has already garnered local hero status among a majority of the 7,00,000-plus Malayalee workforce in the host country.
Even before Argentina’s mercurial skipper, striker and seven-time Ballon d’Or-winner Lionel Messi has stepped on to the pitch for the FIFA World Cup Group C match against Saudi Arabia here, the anticipation among his South Indian fans in particular here, is crazy.
There is a strong Kerala workforce in Qatar, roughly 700,000-plus out of a total population of 2.8 million, as is the case across the Arabian Gulf. So, today’s clash of their hero against one of their adopted countries of work offers a unique perspective.
Messi craze in Mallapuram
Mansoor Mohammed, 30, who hails from Mallapuram and is here for the FIFA World Cup, explains the Messi craze back home. “We [local football club members] have installed a giant-sized, 40-foot Messi cutout in our village. Unfortunately, due to strong winds, the cutout snapped and that ‘back-breaking’ video of Messi became viral. However, we wasted no time in preparing a wooden frame, placing it behind and re-erecting the cutout within a matter of hours. That’s how passionate we are about him. He cannot fall. He will only rise. He will definitely score against Saudi Arabia,” Mansoor, who has a furniture business in Coimbatore, told mid-day here on Monday.
File photo of fans supporting Argentina at a waterfront in Doha. Pic/AFP
Another Keralite, Ali Anwar, who works in a shopping mall here, has mixed feelings as he has cousins work in Saudi. “Two of my cousin brothers work in Saudi Arabia. They are also die-hard Messi fans, but obviously they cannot support Argentina openly back home today, so I feel bad for them. But we are in touch on phone and they are confident that Messi will kick off his final World Cup campaign with a bang,” Anwar said.
Argentine manager Lionel Scaloni’s side are on a 36-match unbeaten run, having last lost [0-2] to arch-rivals Brazil in the 2019 Copa America. Their last World Cup warm-up match was a 5-0 rout of the UAE.
Add to this the fact that Saudi Arabia could most likely be battling to avoid a bottom-place finish in their group which also comprises South American football powerhouse Mexico and superstar striker Robert Lewandowski’s Poland, today’s fixture should be a cakewalk for the Argentines.
However, for the Indian fans here, it’s not as much about Argentina’s result as it is about Messi performing at his best. Anwar was part of the group of a few thousand, again predominantly South Indians, who gathered at the Corniche area here to root for Messi and Argentina a few days ago.
Also read: FIFA World Cup 2022: Qatar fans disappointed after 0-2 defeat to Ecuador
Crazy party in Doha
“It was a crazy party. There were chants of ‘Messssi, Messsi’ all around,” he said. Interestingly, Mansoor informs that Mallapuram also has huge cutouts of Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo and Brazil striker Neymar, “but they are on either side of Messi. Messi is the centre of attraction, just like he will be here in his final World Cup,” Mansoor signed off.
It’s over to Messi now to deliver on the biggest stage once again!
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