Hours of waiting to see the Argentina team coach for a few seconds a hundred metres away and, even then, with a fence separating them. The thousand or so fans who came down to the University of Qatar to welcome La Scaloneta did not let their enthusiasm drop, even if they weren’t able to see Lionel Messi up close.
The Albiceleste, who had just beaten the United Arab Emirates 5-0 in Abu Dhabi, arrived late and in the early hours of Wednesday to Thursday morning at what will be their home for the World Cup in Qatar.Locals and fans of Argentina were already gathered outside before their arrival, creating a festive atmosphere.
"Go, go Argentina!" chanted a group of fans of Asian origin, interspersed with shouts of "Messi, Messi, Messi!"
"We love football. Messi is the best. We really like the way Argentina are playing at the moment and with Messi they are the best. We are going to win!" 36-year-old Shabi, a financial sector worker based in Doha for the past 10 years, told AFP.
Shabi is originally from Kerala in southern India. Alongside him were other Argentina fans from other countries such as Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
Attracted by the enthusiasm of this group, Perla, a 68-year-old woman from Catamarca Province, posed for photographs with Hakeem, Salih, Mansu and other Indian fans of Argentina. All were dressed entirely in the colours of the national side, including a wig. Nearby, her recently retired husband Carlos Martínez, 67, marvelled at the scene.
"We are here thanks to a niece who loves us very much and who lives here and organised everything, we are staying in her house. We have been married for 41 years, this is like a honeymoon for us," explained Perla. "I've tried to teach them some of the songs we sing.”
Hashid began explaining why there is such a passion for Argentina: "In India, Argentina has been very popular since the [Diego] Maradona years or earlier. Many of us grew up with [Gabriel] Batistuta. With Messi it's already craziness!”
Mate and Maradona
In the early hours of the morning in Doha, the chants of the Argentina fans were getting louder. Some had already broken off into smaller groups of friends, drinking mate or chatting to each other to liven up the wait for the coach carrying the Scaloneta from Hamad Airport to Qatar University.
Luana, a 26-year-old fan from Santa Fe, had decided to take part in an exchange programme so she could spend a few months working in a Doha hotel during the World Cup.
"There are a lot of Argentine fans here and also a lot of non-Argentine Argentine fans, which adds a lot to the crowd. There are a lot of us and you see a lot of our flag and our shirt in the streets these days," she says.
"What football means to Argentines is communion, friendship, asados and abrazos," said Diego Boyo, 47, a communications worker in the health sector. "Hugging each other, moments like these are very necessary.”
Claudia Pérez, an artist from Córdoba who went viral on social networks a few months ago thanks to her painting of Messi, was in the limelight for a few moments while waiting for the coach. She appeared on the scene carrying another of her paintings, this time of Diego Maradona.
Pérez is in Qatar to exhibit several paintings for the World Cup, under the title Fútbol y arte ("Football and Art").
"Messi and Maradona are Argentina. Here with this image of Diego, look what he provokes, how happy people are when they see him. I didn't have time to leave the painting in my flat and the national team was coming, so I said to myself, ‘Well, I'm going with Diego there, everyone loves him,’" she told AFP.
The clock was ticking and by 2.30am on Thursday morning, Messi and the rest of the Argentina squad were finally landing in Doha.
At the gate of Qatar University, where fans and members of the press were waiting for the Argentina coach to arrive, rumours were rife that the vehicle would enter through another entrance to the complex.
The fans then crowded around a protective gate and at 3.45am in the middle of the night, they watched from a hundred metres away as the coach drove past. It was only for a few moments and at some considerable distance away.
"So much waiting for so little. But we had a good time," said Sara with her two friends.
As she spoke, Señor Messi was already asleep, resting at the University of Qatar.
by Diego Reinares, AFP