Abdur Rahman, 18, collapsed as he entered Lusail Stadium on Friday night ahead of Argentina’s quarter-final match against the Netherlands. And when he first saw Lionel Messi warming up on the pitch, his heart pounded. It was Rahman’s biggest dream.
I’ve watched Messi play since 2010 when he first met one of the biggest names in modern football. “I was six years old when I started chasing Messi (on TV) at the 2010 World Cup,” Rahman told Al Jazeera. “I never imagined that one day I would be in the same stadium and breathe the same air as him.”
An engineering student from Bahrain says he saved six months for the day. He arrived wearing a Messi t-shirt, with the flag of Argentina wrapped around his neck, painted on his cheeks, and with “Argentina Vamos” on his lips. “I love the Argentinian team and feel like I’m part of them, so I learned their national anthem and practiced their celebrations,” said Rahman, as thousands of people surrounded him. I waved to the Argentinians and chanted.
Argentina had the biggest fans in the stadium during this World Cup. It’s part of the lucky draw. They played most of their matches at Lusail Stadium, the tournament’s largest venue with a capacity of nearly 89,000 spectators. But while most supporters wear Messi’s name and number 10 on their shirts, not all of them are from the same country or continent. Among them was China’s Haopeng Wang, the 35-year-old football star bowing out to join his teammates. “Messi is my god,” said the king, slowing his heartbeat and beating his chest with rhythmic movements as if to pretend he hadn’t dreamed.
“He (Messi) gave a great assist and showed his magic,” said the 22-year-old, who raised his hand and said he was “too emotional to speak.” Disbelief was replaced by loud and passionate celebrations as the fans left the stadium. The only title missed by the decorated captain of Argentina was two wins away, and his admirers never lost its importance. A group of Bangladeshi fans left the venue with flags of their country and heroes. Their Bengali chants were interrupted by Messi’s name. One fan, Fachrul Islam, explained that he chanted, “Messi needs a World Cup, and the World Cup needs Messi.”
“If Messi doesn’t win the World Cup in his career, it would be a shame for football and all our prayers are with him.” Others, like Sudan’s Yasin, seemed more confident that the Rosario-born icon would win his third World Cup for Argentina. He said he traveled more than 2,000 km (1,242 miles) to see the “greatest” footballer of all time and can’t go home without seeing him lift the trophy. As tens of thousands of spectators rushed to the stadium exit, Yashin stopped with a knowing smile and a handmade placard written in Spanish.
‘Messi is here, the World Cup is just a matter of time