ARGENTINA is the economic basket case in the world, with a staggering 88 percent inflation and four out of ten of the population living in poverty.
Its citizens are so poor – with an average wage of just £320 a month – that virtually all have two or three jobs, working 16-hour days, struggling desperately to pay the skyrocketing bills.
But the country’s staggering 60,000 football fans have somehow begged and borrowed the 8,200-mile trip to Qatar to cheer on their national team heroes.
And the fans in blue and white shirts were all smiling yesterday – because they have Lionel Messi and the unshakable belief that they will win the World Cup tomorrow.
The brilliant Messi – who featured at his last World Cup aged 35 – meets superstar rivals Kylian Mbappe and France in tomorrow’s final at Doha’s Lusail Stadium.
Argentinian fans in the 89,000-seat venue will outnumber the French by at least ten to one, creating an amazing wall of sound.
But their dream of ending their nation’s 36-year wait for football’s Holy Grail is the only ray of hope for a country wracked by economic woes.
Argentina has spent more time in recession than almost any other nation since the 1950s and has had double-digit inflation for decades.
The Argentine peso has also lost 30 percent of its value in recent months, and lack of cash reserves, foreign investment and confidence in President Alberto Fernandez’s regime have pushed inflation to that staggering 88 percent rate — forecast to hit 100 percent exceed in the new year.
“WE DESERVE SOME JOY”
But tens of thousands of fans have traveled to Qatar from Argentina – where prices have skyrocketed faster than any other G20 country.
By contrast, many England and Wales fans – with UK inflation hovering around just around nine per cent – avoided Qatar’s expensive tournament.
But despite Argentina’s troubles at home, even senior politicians in the capital, Buenos Aires, believe winning the World Cup is now the impoverished country’s top priority.
Asked if lifting the trophy was more important than fighting inflation, Labor Secretary Kelly Olmos shrugged: “We have to work constantly on inflation but one month won’t make much of a difference.
“We want Argentina to be champions – the Argentine people really deserve some joy.”
Lawyer Nicolas Orellano – who also runs a wine shop in Buenos Aires to make ends meet – used all his savings and borrowed money from his girlfriend to go to Qatar.
He flew to Spain, then on to London to catch a flight to Dubai, then traveled by bus and train through Saudi Arabia to the capital, Doha.
Nicolas, 30, is now virtually penniless and lives in a bustling Argentinian fandom in Barwa Barahat Al Janoub, south of Doha, nicknamed “Little Buenos Aires”.
Yesterday fans there roasted a lamb donated by Argentina’s ambassador to Qatar on a makeshift grill under a huge Messi banner while football anthems blared from a loudspeaker.
Nicolas said: “I have no money and no idea how to get home but there’s no way I can go, now we’re so close to seeing Lionel Messi win the World Cup.
“Our politicians at home have failed us, but our football team has not – they are our only hope.
“It’s a special madness that brings us here when we have so little.
“My girlfriend supports me and lent me $500 (£410) when my money ran out.
“But I know some people who have sold their houses to raise money to go to Qatar.
“People in Argentina are suffering but they love that so many of us are here and even donate money so we can stay and support the team.
“I don’t have a ticket for the final yet, but I’d give anything to be there, having attended five games so far – and I’m sure we’ll win.”
Accountant and part-time butcher Javier Mahmud, 36, has been struggling to save a down payment for his first home in Buenos Aires with his partner of 15 years, Carla Barletta, 34.
But Carla supported his decision to empty her entire savings account to travel to Doha via Egypt and Lebanon.
Javier said at his third World Cup: “We have the best fans in the world who give everything to be here.
“Our country is in terrible shape economically, but Lionel Messi will repay us with a win tomorrow.
“I have very little money left and no ticket to the finals but I’m still hoping to find a way to be there after following the team so far.
“I’ll be broke when I get home with no money to buy Christmas presents, but I don’t care and my family will understand. The only gift we want is the World Cup.”
Fridge repairman Sergio Pendola, 30, from Buenos Aires, flew to Doha via Spain and Saudi Arabia to watch his third World Cup.
He said: “Diego Maradona is our god but Lionel Messi has a chance to become another god if he wins the World Cup for us – and he won’t let us down.
“He has Maradona’s passion now because there are so many fans here who force him to win.
“There is no question that he is now the best footballer in the world and Kylian Mbappe will not be a match for him.
“Our fans are the 12th man for the team. I’ve spent my entire life savings of $6,000 (£4,920) and borrowed another $4,000 (£3,280) – but many here have sacrificed a lot more.
“FOOTBALL IS ALL WE HAVE”
Fan Evelyn Galiano has the middle name Milagros – Spanish for miracle – because she survived being born six months premature.
But she said: “We don’t need another miracle – we have Messi.”
Evelyn, 26, works as a chef in Andorra but told her boss she needed a month off to see her idols.
She said: “It’s the last World Cup for Messi, that’s why I’m here and it exceeded all my expectations.
“I’m traveling alone but three of the guys here have run out of money for accommodation and they’re staying in my room.
“They live for free – I wanted to help them. I feel absolutely safe because we are all fans together.”
Mauro Fernandez, 32, a chef from Buenos Aires, traveled from Thailand to Doha via Madrid.
He said: “I paid $400 (£328) for the Holland game and $600 (£492) for Croatia but I ran out of money.
“They are charging more than 1,000 (£820) for the final ticket so I might have to see it on a giant screen but I will go to Lusail so I can be with the fans and see the players.
“For me it’s all about seeing Messi lift that trophy. I’ve been here for ten days and I don’t know how to get home.
“I know Messi is better than Mbappe, he is the best.
“There will be 50,000 Argentinian fans at the final, with more flights coming from Buenos Aires. They were completely full yesterday.”
Gaston Didier-Lardet, 33, from San Luis near the Argentinian city of Mendoza, made the 12-hour, 6,500-mile flight from Australia, where he worked at a mine.
He now lives in a low-rise building in Argentina’s fan village and said: “It’s not the Sheraton, but the atmosphere with the fans is just great.
“It feels like home – we’re surrounded by fans, we have BBQs and music.
“I’m a Messi soldier – he’s proof of total sacrifice.
“I have a ticket for the final and I am very happy. I’m nervous and won’t sleep, but I’m looking forward to it.
“I probably spent around $10,000 (£8,200) but it’s hard to explain why – I just had to be here.
“I’ve heard crazy stories from people who sold their houses, their cars, their belongings and everything to see Messi win this World Cup.
“We know it’s his last chance and he’s a god to us. I think he will.”
https://www.the-sun.com/sport/soccer/6934440/argentina-fans-messi-no-money/ We have no money and no way to go back to Argentina but seeing our hero Messi at the World Cup is all we care about