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This article was first published 1 year ago  » Sports » In Messi's hometown, hope builds ahead of World Cup final

In Messi's hometown, hope builds ahead of World Cup final

December 17, 2022 17:50 IST
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Lionel Messi

IMAGE: Pedestrians walk past a mural depicting Argentine soccer star Lionel Messi near the home where he was born, in Rosario, Argentina. Photograph: Agustin Marcarian/Reuters

In Rosario, the Argentine city where Lionel Messi grew up, hope and excitement are rising that their hometown star can guide the country to a first soccer World Cup since 1986, repeating a trick by one Diego Maradona 36 years ago.

Some 300 kilometers (186 miles) north of Buenos Aires, on the western bank of the mighty Paraná River, the farm hub city is where Messi grew up and first kicked a ball. His image is everywhere, adorning the sides of buildings.


In the nearby town of Serodino, a huge 12 by 18 meter (40 by 60 ft) Messi No. 10 jersey flutters in the air above the streets, put up in tribute to Argentina, who will play France in a showpiece final on Sunday in Qatar.


"It gives me goosebumps," said Juan Pío Drovetta, mayor of Serodino, adding that "La Scaloneta" - as the team are called in a nod to the coach, Lionel Scaloni - were fighting hard for victory.

"Behind this there is work, there is heart, there are fists, there is blood," he said.

Sunday's match will be the second World Cup final for 35-year-old Messi, who will be seeking revenge after losing 1-0 to Germany in the 2014 final in Brazil.

Lionel Messi

IMAGE: An-18-meter long Argentina shirt featuring soccer star Lionel Messi's surname is displayed at the Monumento a la Bandera (The National Flag Memorial), in Rosario. Photograph: Agustin Marcarian/Reuters

"We're going to win, that's how it is. Because of how up for it these guys are, because of the way they treat each other," said Juan Ibáñez Moroni, father of Pedro Ibáñez, 8, who plays in the youth team at Newell's Old Boys, Messi's old club.

"Apart from doing it for Argentina, they are going to do it for him (Messi) too. He needs it and will end up setting all the records," he predicted.

In Rosario, there's almost a Messi madness. "From another galaxy and from my neighborhood," reads one huge one mural, painted near the house where Messi was born.

"He was a super fun and unaffected child, his life was more than anything spent with a football, playing with all the boys," said Alejandra Ferreyra, showing photos of her mother and daughter with a teenage Messi.

"The truth is that he deserves the best in life, because he is a beautiful little person, he is a born leader and he is going to make us all happy. We are already champions."

Mbappe’s star power looms large in home city Bondy

Kylian Mbappe

IMAGE: For his second World Cup final,Kylian Mbappe, 23, will be playing against his Paris St Germain team mate Lionel Messi. Photograph: Dylan Martinez/Reuters

As French soccer star Kylian Mbappe gears up for the World Cup final on Sunday in Qatar, the striker's presence is also felt strongly in Bondy, the unassuming satellite city of Paris where he grew up.

"Ah, Kylian, the rising star - the star of the stars," said Kamel Ghehioueche, 41, bundled up in front of the city hall, an austere, concrete building from the 1960s, as parking agents cleared a lot for the Christmas market.

Local enthusiasm for the city's favorite son is palpable, piercing through the winter gloom ahead of Sunday's match between the reigning champions and Argentina.

For his second World Cup final, Mbappe, 23, will be playing against his Paris St Germain team mate Lionel Messi.

"Kiki, we love you!" said Melissa Toumi, 28, who crossed paths with Mbappe during his youth, training on the soccer pitch.

In the parking lot of burger joint Harry's Cafe, the famous striker's image towers behind her, blanketing one side of a 10-story building.

"We want the third star," said her friend Dounia Zeghadi, 34, referring to another star on the French team's jersey signifying their third World Cup victory after their previous two in 1998 and 2018, where Mbappe shot to fame.

"Kylian, bring home the prize, inshallah," said Frikhi Mansour, who recalled regularly cutting Mbappe's hair when he was young.

"I told him, 'When you're a great football star, call me!' It's a great memory," he said, pointing to photos snapped with the star draped in a barber's cape.

Mbappe is "the pride of the city," said Elisa Doughty, 49, an American who was drawn to Bondy for its mix of nationalities and its more affordable housing.

Known for its large population of migrants from central and north Africa, Bondy's architecture is also a mix, with neat rows of village houses interspersed between cement apartment blocks, and highways that slice through the urban sprawl.

Mbappe's parents, handball player Fayza Lamari and soccer coach Wilfried Mbappe, are also household names; the family is known for its charitable contributions to the city.

"He hasn't forgotten. Sometimes when things heat up, we forget a bit where we're from," said retiree Marie-Helene Fontarnou.

"He is certainly leading the way for this next generation of football players," said Doughty, noting his success has energized local clubs.

The city has more rising stars to come, said Ghehioueche. "I don't think it will stop here."

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