Wednesday, February 1 2023

Indian drums drowned out Argentina’s diehard fans as hundreds waited hours to get a glimpse of a bus carrying Lionel Messi outside his World Cup team base in Qatar.

The drummers and Indian beat dancers again showed how Qatar 2022 is going to be a different experience for players and visiting fans. Supporters from the subcontinent had outnumbered England fans when they greeted Harry Kane’s side on Tuesday.

A crowd of more than 500 that had waited until nearly 4:00 am (0100GMT) to see the arrival of their heroes was split evenly between Argentina’s Indian fans and those from the South American country, many of whom have spent thousands of dollars to get to the World Cup.

The team flew in early Thursday from Abu Dhabi, where they beat United Arab Emirates 5-0 in their final World Cup warm-up on Wednesday night with Messi, 35, scoring his 91st international goal.

One of the favourites going into this year’s World Cup, the South Americans will begin their campaign on Tuesday against Saudi Arabia in Group C, which also includes Mexico and Poland.

Members of the Argentina Fans In Qatar club, who claim more than 5,000 members, brought drums decorated with “Leo” Messi’s portrait to the team base at Qatar University.

“If this is going to be Leo’s last World Cup there can be no better place for it,” said Munish Sharma who recalled seeing Messi score the winning goal when Argentina beat Brazil 1-0 in a friendly match in Doha in 2010.

Indian fans have already made their mark with thousands taking part in a march and wearing the jerseys from top football nations, including Argentina, Brazil and England.

“They do make a lot of noise,” said Laura Valero who arrived from Buenos Aires on Tuesday. “If those drums are going to play here every night then the team will never get to sleep,” she said.

– ‘We wanted to see Leo’ –

Valero, 24, said she had also borrowed nearly $8,000 from her parents to make the World Cup trip to Qatar and that was also a concern.

“All my friends are here so I could not say no,” she declared.

The two groups of fans battled to see who could make the most noise. Silvia Perla, a 68-year-old Argentine from Catamarca, had her picture taken with Hakeem Salih and others from among the Indians.

“I tried to teach them what we were singing and they tried to teach me some words,” she said.

The wait into the night became interminable for some who left before the Argentina bus sped past about 100 metres from where Messi’s adoring fans were kept behind a wire fence.

“We wanted to see Leo, it’s a shame,” said Diego Cordovez, whose voice was hoarse from hours of singing.

“But he needs rest, that’s more important,” he added.

Messi, 35, won a Copa America title last year but the Qatar tournament is probably his last chance to equal Argentine great Diego Maradona in leading his country to World Cup glory.

The 1978 and 1986 World Cup winners extended their unbeaten run to 36 matches against the UAE.

Messi has been cautious about the team’s chances in Qatar.

“We have a very nice group that is very eager, but we think about going little by little. We know that World Cup groups are not easy,” the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner said in an interview with CONMEBOL, the South American football federation.

tw/dh

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