The big and boisterous fan bases of Argentina and Mexico were out in force on Saturday as one of Latin American football’s biggest rivalries spiced up the FIFA World Cup ahead of their latest clash.
Thousands of vociferous, flag-draped supporters of both sides have made the long journey to Qatar and have been a lively presence, organising street parties and teaching Spanish-language chants to Arab fans eager to join in.
“They are the craziest and the best! This is exactly what we were waiting for,” said Ibrahim Hussain, a Saudi Arabian wearing a Lionel Messi shirt, as he watched Argentines and Mexicans banter good-naturedly on the Qatari capital Doha’s seafront.
Saturday night’s Group C match at the Lusail Stadium is, however, a deadly serious matter for both sets of supporters.
Argentina began their World Cup with a shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia in a disastrous start for Messi’s fifth and final attempt to win the one big trophy that has eluded him.
Mexico, eliminated in the last 16 at the previous seven World Cups, scraped a 0-0 draw with Poland in their opener.
So both need a win to get their tournament going and match the enthusiasm of their fans.
Thousands of them flocked to the nearly 90,000-capacity Lusail Stadium hours before the 1900 GMT kickoff.
Chanting songs at each other, the Mexicans donned Aztec warrior and Lucha Libre wrestling outfits, while the Argentines wore blue-and-white No 10 shirts for Messi and their other hero Diego Maradona. Some paraded Arab headgear in national colours.
“Argentina have always trod on us and they look down on us. That has to change. Today is the day to rewrite our history with them,” said Guillermo Sanchez, 44, from Mexico City, sporting a green sombrero along with friends.
Argentina are indeed something of a nemesis for Mexico, having beaten them in all three previous World Cup encounters stretching back to a 6-3 win at the inaugural 1930 competition then last 16 victories in 2006 and 2010.
Though fans of both nations have drawn plenty of admiring attention – and endless selfies – in Qatar since the tournament started, the rivalry went too far earlier this week.
Social media videos showed Mexican fans provoking Argentines with insults over top scorer Messi and their Falkands War defeat by Britain. That led to some street brawling that left some fans bleeding and injured, according to the footage and photos.
There were no reports of trouble on Saturday, however, as fans of both sides milled around Doha, from the seafront Corniche to the Souk Wafiq market, before wending their way to the stadium in Lusail north of the capital where the World Cup final will also be held.
“It’s OK for the Mexicans to have a joke with us, we can take that. But they are not in the same football league as Argentina,” laughed Jessica Martinez, a 33-year-old sales assistant travelling with friends from Buenos Aires.
“Remind me, how many World Cups have Mexico won? Oh yes – none! How many have Argentina won? Two for now, but three by the end of this tournament – you watch!”