Lionel Messi draws Brazilian fans to what could be the Argentine great’s last match in Rio

Rafael Yen is only a boy, solely 8 years previous and mad for soccer like most children in soccer-mad Brazil, however he has a conundrum that even his father is thus far powerless to repair.

Will Rafael put on an Argentina shirt at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro on Tuesday to watch Lionel Messi — his favourite participant — when the World Cup champions play Brazil in a qualifying match?

“I instructed him to take it simple, that may be like sporting a Vasco da Gama shirt at a Flamengo match,” mentioned Miguel Yen, the boy’s father, referring to one among fiercest rivalries in Brazilian soccer. “As we speak he put apart a Brazil shirt, too, so I nonetheless don’t know what that’s going to be like after he comes again from faculty.”

Rafael has grow to be such a fan of Messi, an eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, that he typically sleeps with an Argentina shirt. He additionally received an Inter Miami jersey quickly after striker moved to the MLS, and begged his father to take him to the Maracana to watch what could be his favourite participant’s last look at the historic venue.

Supporters like Rafael don’t essentially need Brazil to lose to Argentina, however they need to see the soccer nice dribble, shoot and possibly even rating.

Many Brazilians have cheered for Messi over the years, not solely due to his unbelievable expertise on the subject, but in addition due to his respect for the five-time World Cup champions. When Messi’s teammates chanted an anti-Brazil track in the Maracana’s dressing room after successful the 2021 Copa America title, Messi was filmed telling them to cease. He’s additionally an in depth pal of Neymar’s, calls Ronaldo one among his greatest inspirations and at all times handled the late Pelé respectfully.

In return, many Brazilians enthusiastically celebrated Argentina’s most up-to-date World Cup title — an unthinkable prevalence when the extra divisive Diego Maradona was the crew’s star.

Messi has not indicated when he’ll cease taking part in, saying he desires to get pleasure from taking part in as a World Cup champion. He’s anticipated to be in the squad that may attempt to defend the Copa America title subsequent yr in the United States, however doubts stay on whether or not he’ll search a second World Cup trophy at the age of 38.

Some Brazilian fans amongst the 69,000 at the Maracana will be completely happy to see Messi rating his first purpose in opposition to Brazil in a World Cup qualifying match, one among the few issues he has but to obtain (he has 5 targets in friendlies). The host crew has by no means misplaced a qualifying match at house.

“I’ll be proud of a draw, so long as Messi scores,” mentioned William Santos, a 14-year-old Brazilian standing exterior the Maracana Stadium the day earlier than the match. “I play with him in video video games, watch him wherever he performs. I’m quick like he’s. My pals mentioned this could be the last probability to see him in Brazil, so I requested this as a Christmas present. It value 300 Brazilian reals ($40).”

Each Argentina and Brazil misplaced their earlier World Cup qualifiers last week. The Brazilians have been crushed at Colombia 2-1, whereas the World Cup champions fell at house to Uruguay 2-0.

Argentina, nonetheless, nonetheless leads the 10-team South American qualifying group with 12 factors. Brazil is in fifth place with seven factors.

The highest six groups in the South American qualifying group will get computerized spots at the 2026 World Cup in the United States, Mexico and Canada — the first to have 48 groups in the subject. The abundance of berths from the area takes a few of the stress off, particularly with Brazil lacking the injured Neymar, Vinicius Júnior and Casemiro.

Not everybody will be ready to attend the match, nonetheless, so some Messi fans in Brazil may have to assist him from their properties. Historical past trainer Quincas Rodriguez and his 10-year-old triplets, Leon, Bento and Joaquim, could not discover tickets for the large recreation at the iconic stadium.

“We’re so upset as a result of we will’t make it. We wished to see Messi, not Brazil. We wished to see the man who received to the identical degree of Maradona, my important reference in soccer,” Rodriguez mentioned. “My youngsters are Brazil fans, however they love Argentine soccer and Messi. They need him to rating, they cheered for Argentina in the World Cup ultimate. I used to be keen to get into debt, however there have been no tickets.”

9 years in the past, Messi had far fewer fans in Brazil when Argentina misplaced to Germany in the 2014 World Cup ultimate at the Maracana. Maria Ramos was a kind of leaping up and down in entrance of the tv when the Germans scored the solely purpose of that match.

This time, she selected to watch Messi over a ticket for a Taylor Swift live performance in Rio.

“Messi deserves the fans he has. He’s a pleasant individual, you’ll be able to’t say a nasty factor about him,” mentioned Ramos, who traveled from the state of Minas Gerais to Rio to attend the recreation. “I hear he was not as nice as Pelé and Maradona. That could be, however he’s certainly the finest that I’ve ever seen. I’m completely happy to have the probability of seeing him no less than as soon as and see he exists for actual.”


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