Madness Prevails as Messi Takes the Field Before Argentina’s First Post-World Cup Match

Amidst a crazy atmosphere in Argentina, national hero Lionel Messi and his companions are playing a festive friendly match Thursday in the capital, Buenos Aires, for the first time as world champions after they were crowned World Cup Qatar at the end of last year with the third world star.

More than 1.5 million fans applied for the 63,000 available tickets for the match against lowly Panama at the Monumental Stadium in Buenos Aires.

Football-mad Argentines came out in even greater numbers after Albiceleste’s dramatic penalty shootout victory over France in the final at Lusail Stadium in Doha last December. An estimated five million people thronged the streets of the capital a few days later, for the ceremonial parade of passing players on an open bus.

However, due to the huge crowds, the bus was unable to complete its journey to the center of the capital, forcing the organizers to cancel the show.

Many expected Messi to retire from international football after the final in which he scored two goals and a penalty in a penalty shootout, but the Paris Saint-Germain striker said he wanted to stick around a bit longer so he could play for his country as world champions.

His coach, Lionel Scaloni, said on Tuesday, “He is in good shape. He wants to continue coming (to defend the colors of the national team). Until he says otherwise, we will see. I see him happy on the field and within the national team.”

Those expectations were shaken slightly earlier this month when two men opened fire on a food store owned by Messi’s wife’s family, with a threatening message directed at the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.

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14 bullets were fired at the metal facade of a closed supermarket, and a cardboard sign on which was hand written: “Messi we are waiting for you, Jafkin is a drug dealer, he will not take care of you,” referring to Pablo Jafkin, mayor of Rosario, Messi’s hometown (320 km northwest of Buenos Aires). ).

But Messi was calm about this incident, as indicated by his father, Jorge, “I spoke to the young man and he told me, ‘Don’t worry’.”

For the mayor of Rosario, it was more of a publicity stunt than a real threat. “What they are looking for here are repercussions… What information spreads faster than an attack on Messi?”

While it may not directly affect Flea, the incident highlighted a growing problem in the 35-year-old’s hometown.

Rosario, the third largest city in Argentina, has in recent years become an important place for drug trafficking, and little by little the most dangerous city in the South American country, with 287 murders in 2022.

– ‘Sheer madness’ –

Messi arrived with his wife, Antonella, and their three children in Buenos Aires on Monday, a day after Saint-Germain, the leaders, lost 0-2 at home to Rennes in “Ligue 1”, and it was the first in the French League competitions at home since the Argentine arrived in the capital in the summer of 2021.

And while he faced boos at the Parc des Princes from his club’s fans, he was greeted as a national hero in his country.

Videos of crowds gathered in large numbers outside a restaurant in Buenos Aires spread massively on social media when they learned that their star was inside for dinner, before he went out and passed among them.

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With 20,000 seats allocated in the 83,000-capacity stadium, the remaining tickets sold out within two hours after they went on sale.

The cheapest ticket cost 12,000 pesos ($60) to 49,000 pesos ($245), which is more than half the average monthly salary in the country.

The Argentine Football Federation said that it had received more than 130,000 media accreditation requests, while the journalists’ platform could only accommodate 344 journalists.

“We’d like to be able to accommodate everyone, but we’ll need two stadiums…just two for journalists. The madness for Argentina is absolute,” said federation president Claudio “Cheeky” Tapia.

Those who are not lucky enough to enter the stadium will at least be able to watch the match for free on TV, after the government decided to broadcast it on open channels.

Scaloni promised that the team will not be satisfied with what they have achieved, regardless of the occasion or the opponent. “The goal is to keep playing at the same level. Now, it will be harder than ever because everyone will want to beat us.”

After Thursday’s match, the three-time world champions will play Curaçao next Tuesday in Santiago del Estero, northern Argentina.

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