NEW DELHI (AP)Soccer fan Gazi Jahidul Haque was struggling to hide his concern before the Argentina and Croatia World Cup semifinal at Qatar’s Lusail Stadium.
Haque was watching the game in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh.
”This World Cup is not only important for Argentina, but also for Messi,” 35-year-old lawyer Haque said before the game, his voice barely audible as thousands behind him thronged to watch the match in front of a giant television screen at the University of Dhaka in the capital’s center.
It was midnight Wednesday in Dhaka and by the time the final whistle blew with Argentina beating Croatia 3-0, Haque’s worries had long dissipated. Argentina was in the World Cup final, one win away from capturing the game’s greatest prize.
The win meant Haque would get to see Messi – a player widely regarded as one of the game’s best – one more time at the World Cup. The celebrations began.
Fans poured onto the streets in Dhaka waving Argentina flags and wearing the team’s sky blue and white jersey. Amid blaring trumpets, they chanted Messi’s name and hugged each other. Some held motorbike rallies. Others broke into song and dance. A young man rode on a rikshaw, his body painted in Argentinian colors.
Argentina’s win was also celebrated in neighboring India, where it is cricket that is typically worshipped with near-religious fervor.
In Kolkata city, where children are also named after football players from previous generations, Argentina fans marched in streets chanting songs for Messi’s team. It’s a city where murals of Messi adorn the walls and Argentinian flags peek out of balconies with homes advertising their support.
Argentina has a legion of passionate super fans in Bangladesh and India since the days of Maradona, one of the greatest to play the game and an icon to fans around the world. Already, thousands of them have traveled to Qatar to see Messi and his team play.
Seeing its team getting massive support from the south Asian country, Argentina’s soccer federation earlier this month praised Bangladeshis on social media.
”Thank you for supporting our team. You are as crazy as we are!” the federation said in a Twitter post with photos showing Bangladeshi fans wearing Argentina’s jersey.
Those who aren’t in Qatar are displaying their allegiance by following the games with utmost devotion at home.
In southern Kerala’s coastal towns and villages, where flags of Argentina and Brazil are strung across shops, buildings and flagpoles, people have erected huge foam-board cutouts of their favorite players. Messi – and Brazil’s Neymar – are the favorites. In villages, open spaces have been used for match screenings, with thousands flocking to watch the games on giant screens.
On Sunday, Argentina will meet with either France or Morocco in the final. The fervor would reach its peak in India, and Aditya Shriram is waiting for a fairytale swan song for Messi.
Shriram, a 33-year-old digital marketer in New Delhi, has been supporting Argentina since the 1998 World Cup. On Sunday, he will be watching the final with a group of nearly two dozen friends he grew up with playing soccer in the Indian capital.
Shriram said Sunday’s game will have Messi play to seal his legacy, considering the greatest of all time – Pele and Maradona – have both won the World Cup, an accolade that had so far evaded the Argentinian superstar.
”It’ll complete him,” Shriram said. ”Unless you win the World Cup, you can’t be counted among the absolute greatest of all time.”
Associated Press writer AL-Emrun Garjon contributed from Dhaka, Bangladesh.
AP World Cup coverage: https://apnews.com/hub/world-cup