After Saudi Arabia stunned Argentina in their first match of the 2022 World Cup, defeating the two-time champions 2-1, supporters of the Arab side were quick to come up with a taunt: “Where is Messi?”
On Wednesday night, after Argentina beat Poland 2-0 to top Group C and Saudi Arabia lost on a chance to qualify for the knockouts following their 2-1 loss to Mexico, it was the South American side’s fans who had a chance to retort: “Where is Saudi?” spread quickly on Twitter.
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The lesson? Mocking Messi is a surefire way of angering Argentine fans.
The superstar, viewed by many as the best football player of his generation — and perhaps of all time — is 35 years old and likely in his last World Cup. As he tries to get his hands on the one trophy that has eluded him, he has a nation and its fans behind him, back home and in Qatar.
Thousands of Argentina fans filled Stadium 974 on Wednesday, loud and boisterous as their team attacked Poland’s goal relentlessly. Every chance in front of the goal was met with thunderous applause, and both goals were celebrated wildly by fans gathered inside and outside the stadium. Argentina next face Australia in their round-of-16 game on Saturday.
“I wasn’t worried when we lost the first game,” said Mauricio, an Argentina. He has travelled to Qatar from one of the southernmost cities in the world, Ushuaia. “When we won the World Cup in 1978 and 1986, we started our campaign with a loss. So if everything goes to plan, we are winning this year too!”
Holding up his island’s flag, Mauricio said he spent nearly all his savings, and close to two days on aeroplanes and airports in order to reach Qatar. And he is not going back without a trophy.
“This is why we sing “we want to win the cup!”
For Federico, a fan from Buenos Aires, the journey was slightly shorter but one he hopes will finally end Argentina’s search for a third title. He has been following the Argentinian team at the World Cup since 1994, and he said he was not worried when Argentina lost against Saudi Arabia.
“Today, the team showed why it came into the tournament with a 36-game unbeaten run,” he said with the reassurance of a fan who is confident of his team’s progress to the final.
“Personally, I don’t mind if we don’t win the cup, but I want them to do it for Messi. He deserves it after everything he has given us,” Federico shouted over loud chanting and singing inside a Doha metro train.
Federico said the fans try to repay their football idol by chanting his name loudly during matches, and the Argentinian fans surrounding him nodded. And they will not stop — not until Messi, they hope, lifts the World Cup at Lusail Stadium on December 18.