The chance to see Lionel Messi up close unleashed a certain madness Monday as the Argentine national team held their first open practice for the 2018 World Cup in this town roughly 60 km (30 mi) southeast of Moscow.
Some 500 people packed the stands at the Bronnitsy training center on the banks of a river with sandy shores and just a short distance from a traditional Russian Orthodox Church with gilded domes.
The fans were continuously chanting the name of Messi with waving Argentine flags and Barca banners.
“Argentina will win the World Cup. It doesn’t matter that it’s not the best team, it has Messi. With him, all is possible,” Dima, a 10-year-old boy wearing a replica Barcelona shirt with the striker’s name, told EFE.
Added to the Argentina fans were more than 200 reporters covering the training session.
Messi acknowledged his fans for their support and their patience by signing autographs and having photos taken with his countless admirers after the practice.
Messi Acknowledges his fans
While it wasn’t sure that Paulo Dybala would make the starting lineup for the World Cup, the Juventus striker also attracted a lot of attention among the fans and, though Javier Mascherano has opted for a golden retirement in China, he was also very much sought after.
Argentina had played only one warm-up match, i.e. against Haiti which they won by 4-0. While their other two warm-up matches got called-off, one against Nicaragua and the other against Israel due to growing pressure from protesters calling for the match to be scrapped over Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.
Runners-up of FIFA World Cup 2014 will start their 2018 World Cup campaign from June 17 against Iceland. Then they will face-off Croatia on June 21 and will close the group stage against Nigeria on June 26.
Take a look at the 23-man squad of Argentina: