A little Argentina in Kolkata

Lionel Messi.jpg.crop_display.jpg

Hours before superstar Lionel Messi is slated to set foot in this soccer-mad city, a little Argentina has sprung up in the southern outskirts of India's eastern metropolis.

An 18-foot flex cut-out of the Barcelona FC striker greets people at downtown Gangulybagan, home to the city's Argentina Fans Club. Argentine team colours flutter atop several homes while the youth roam about in the skyblue and white jerseys of the fancied South American team.

A part of the main road and surrounding areas is decorated with chain flags, while 20 other flex cut-outs of the soccer magician have also been put up ahead of the first ever FIFA official friendly tie on September 2 between Argentina and Venezuela at the Salt Lake stadium.

"We have put up over 50 flexes. When Diego Maradona came to Kolkata in December, 2008, we had installed a giant statue of the legend. But this time the organisers did not cooperate much with us. Moreover the monsoon also forced us not to try anything similar," club founder secretary Uttam Saha told the media.

The club, which has 240 members, has installed a giant screen where the enchanting moments of Messi's playing career are being shown.

"We will beam live the September 2 game. Some of our members will be in the stadium as volunteers, while a few others have purchased the minimum price tickets," said the 49-year old Saha, who has watched three World Cups besides a host of other international soccer events to see the Albicelestes (the name given to the Argentine national team for their colours) in action.

"Many of our members travel to various parts of the globe to see our team play. I have been to Dubai, Beijing Olympics and event to the Wembley," said Saha, who runs a security agency and is also in the hoarding business.

But will they get a chance to meet their hero Messi? "When Maradona came the organisers were very positive to us. But not this time. But I will definitely find a way to meet him. I will use all my contacts, even political for this."

And Tuesday afternoon the club members were busy gearing up to welcome Messi when he makes his grand entry into the city in the wee hours Wednesday.

"We originally planned to escort him from the airport with 100 bikes, just as we had done to Maradona. But the police have not given permission for so many bikes. So we will have to do with 50 bikes. Others will travel in cars ahead and behind the convoy," he said.

Around 150 club members will turn out in the Argentine national team jersey, wearing face paints in the Argentine colours, and hold aloft placards and banners welcoming the visiting team.

"The next few days we will be in a trance, savouring every minute of our dream team's trip to the city. We will forget all other business, office work. We may not get many a chance to go physically near the players. But mentally we will be with them. And we will celebrate the occasion in our own way," Saha added.

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