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Rafael Yen, an 8-year-old boy, shares the common passion for soccer among children in Brazil. However, he faces a dilemma that even his father cannot solve at the moment.
On Tuesday, will Rafael be wearing a jersey from Argentina while at the Maracana Stadium in Rio de Janeiro to watch his favorite player, Lionel Messi, as the World Cup champions face off against Brazil in a qualifying match?
“I advised him to relax, as it would be similar to wearing a Vasco da Gama jersey to a Flamengo game,” stated Miguel Yen, the father of the boy. This was in reference to one of the most intense rivalries in Brazilian football. “Today, he even set aside his Brazil jersey, so I am curious to see how things will be when he returns from school.”
Rafael is now a devoted admirer of Messi, a recipient of the prestigious Ballon d’Or award eight times. He has even started sleeping with an Argentina shirt and received an Inter Miami jersey when the striker joined the MLS. Rafael pleaded with his father to take him to the Maracana stadium to witness what may be his favorite player’s final game at the iconic location.
Rafael’s supporters may not be rooting for Brazil to lose against Argentina, but they do hope to witness the soccer star’s impressive dribbling, shooting, and possibly even scoring.
Many Brazilians have cheered for Messi over the years, not only because of his incredible skills on the field, but also because of his respect for the five-time World Cup champions. When Messi’s teammates chanted an anti-Brazil song in the Maracana’s dressing room after winning the 2021 Copa America title, Messi was filmed telling them to stop. He’s also a close friend of Neymar’s, calls Ronaldo one of his biggest inspirations and always treated the late Pelé respectfully.
Brazilian fans were filled with excitement for Argentina’s recent World Cup victory, a scenario that seemed impossible when the polarizing figure of Diego Maradona was the team’s top player.
Messi has not indicated when he will stop playing, saying he wants to enjoy playing as a World Cup champion. He is expected to be in the squad that will try to defend the Copa America title next year in the United States, but doubts remain on whether he will seek a second World Cup trophy at the age of 38.
A portion of the 69,000 attendees at the Maracana Stadium will be delighted to witness Messi’s first goal against Brazil in a World Cup qualifying game, as it is one of the few accomplishments he has not yet attained (he has scored five goals in friendly matches). The home team has never been defeated in a qualifying match played on their own turf.
William Santos, a 14-year-old from Brazil, expressed his excitement for the upcoming match outside the Maracana Stadium. He stated that he would be satisfied with a tie, as long as Messi scores. He also shared that he often plays video games with Messi and watches him play wherever he goes. Being short like Messi, William’s friends mentioned that this could potentially be their last opportunity to see him in Brazil. As a result, William asked for tickets to the match as his Christmas present, which cost him 300 Brazilian reals ($40).
Last week, Argentina and Brazil both suffered defeats in their respective World Cup qualifying matches. The Brazilian team lost 2-1 to Colombia, while the reigning World Cup champions were defeated 2-0 by Uruguay on their home turf.
Argentina remains at the top of the 10-team South American qualifying group with a total of 12 points. Meanwhile, Brazil is currently in fifth place with a total of seven points.
The six highest-ranked teams in the South American qualifying group will receive automatic berths for the 2026 World Cup, which will be held in the United States, Mexico, and Canada. This will be the first World Cup to include 48 teams. With such a large number of spots allocated to the region, there is less pressure on teams, particularly with Brazil’s key players Neymar, Vinicius Júnior, and Casemiro out due to injury.
Unfortunately, not all individuals will have the opportunity to be present at the game. As a result, some of Messi’s supporters in Brazil will have to show their support from the comfort of their own homes. Despite their efforts, Quincas Rodriguez, a history teacher, and his three 10-year-old triplets, Leon, Bento, and Joaquim, were unable to secure tickets for the highly anticipated match at the famous stadium.
“We are extremely disappointed that we are unable to attend. Our main reason for wanting to go was to see Messi, not Brazil. He is on the same level as Maradona, who is my top reference in soccer,” stated Rodriguez. “My children may be fans of Brazil, but they also love Argentine soccer and Messi. They were rooting for him to score and supported Argentina in the World Cup final. I was even willing to go into debt to get tickets, but unfortunately, none were available.”
Nine years prior, Messi had a much smaller following in Brazil as Argentina suffered defeat against Germany in the 2014 World Cup final at the Maracana. Among those celebrating and showing excitement in front of the TV was Maria Ramos, as the Germans scored the lone goal of the game.
On this occasion, she decided to attend a Messi game instead of purchasing a ticket for a Taylor Swift concert in Rio.
Ramos, who traveled from Minas Gerais to Rio to attend the game, expressed admiration for Messi, saying that he is a deserving of his fans. Ramos also added that Messi is a kind person and it is impossible to say anything negative about him. Ramos acknowledged that some may argue that Messi is not as great as Pelé and Maradona, but in his opinion, Messi is the best player he has ever seen. He expressed happiness at having the opportunity to see Messi play in person and confirm that he is real.
AP soccer news coverage can be found at https://apnews.com/hub/soccer.