Lionel Messi and Kolkata, it seems at the moment, are Made for Each Other.
Kolkata’s Projection as the ‘World’s Most Football Fanatic City’ may not be acceptable to all. Many may name Rio de Janerio; others may point out about Amsterdam, Munich, Glasgow and even London. Even Messi may just prompt, ‘Buenos Aires.’ But keeping all in mind, Kolkata still stays different, and maybe, just that shade ahead.
Not that the City hasn’t seen the Best of the World at the Maidan. Pele played an Exhibition Match in 1978 and then Diego Maradona enthralled all off the field some three years back.
And even as the age-old debate as to who stays ‘The Better,’ among the duo hasn’t found its answer as yet, Messi, in an attempt to push his name into the debate, finds it best to take centrestage – probably at the peak of his career for his National Team against Venezuela in an International Friendly at the Salt Lake Stadium.
But it isn’t Messi alone. There’s Gonzalzo Higuain, Sergei Aguero, Javier Mascherano amongst others – the galaxy of stars which makes the Albicelestes the most Marketable (read Glamourous) Team in the World. The prevalent sentiment in Kolkata, nevertheless, isn’t concentrated on all – rather Lionel stays the cynosure of all eyes. And we haven’t yet spoken about the Venezuelan team yet.
‘Descending from Heaven,’ says a huge poster of the Wonderboy in one of the streets; the so common cutout of Messi threatening to break loose with the ball. The poster also shows the entire Venezuelan squad in a pre-match team line-up. But from Alejandro Sabella’s side, it’s Messi alone – making the message loud and clear. If you have Lionel Messi in your ranks, you don’t care.
Messi, we all know, doesn’t love being surrounded by rivals on the field. But his first few hours in the City of Joy have been different – security men have been shadowing him for obvious reasons. Fans only hope, Saturday, will be different.
The demand for tickets has been crazy. For the last fortnight, almost every wake-up call has been for a ticket for the match. Mind you, a ticket and not a VIP pass as is the common norm. For Messi, fans are willing to pay.
The Salt Lake Stadium which was inaugurated by Bobby Moore in 1984 and which has had the likes of Diego Forlan, Roger Milla, Oliver Kahn, Eusebio, Gerd Muller amongst others either play or grace the stands, sports a renovated look. The Dressing Room looks snazzy and one of the best in Asia at the Moment.
We wait for the roar which will greet the ball at Messi’s feet for the first time. Camp Nou, La Bombonera or the Salt Lake Stadium? It’s for Messi to decide.
The kick-off is slated for 7pm. For the record, Argentina have reigned supreme in all their last 17 meetings against Venezuela.