A young Afghan boy who became an internet sensation after being photographed in a homemade replica of Lionel Messi’s famous football strip has finally come face-to-face with his idol.
In January this year, pictures emerged of five-year-old Murtaza Ahmadi wearing a blue-and-white striped plastic bag to emulate the colours of the Argentinian team. On the back of the bag was scrawled the legend: “Messi 10”.
The pictures went viral and, after Messi’s biggest fan was identified and tracked down to Afghanistan’s eastern Ghazni province, efforts were made to bring Murtaza and the Barcelona star together.
A video tweeted on Tuesday by the organisers of the 2022 World Cup in Qatar shows the Argentinian forward scooping up Murtaza, now six, and posing for photographers. According to the tweet, the meeting was arranged through the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Murtaza and Messi met in Doha and the boy is expected to walk out on to the pitch with Messi on Tuesday night when Barcelona play Al Ahli.
The boy’s unexpected fame has not been entirely welcome. After receiving constant telephone threats, the family was eventually forced to flee to Quetta in neighbouring Pakistan.
Murtaza’s father, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, said he feared that his son would be kidnapped. The family first travelled to the Pakistani capital, Islamabad, but could not settle there because of the high cost of living. They later moved to Quetta.
“I sold all my belongings and brought my family out of Afghanistan to save my son’s life as well as the lives of the rest of the family,” he said in May.
Despite the upheaval, he added at the time: “Murtaza hopes that one day he would be able to meet his hero, Messi.”
This article was written by Sam Jones in Madrid, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 13th December 2016 15.39 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010