‘IT’S A DREAM’

Afghan boy fi­nally meets idol Messi

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - FRONT PAGE - By AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS in Doha, Qatar

It was an im­age that touched the hearts of mil­lions: A 5-year-old Afghan boy wear­ing an im­pro­vised Lionel Messi jersey made from a plas­tic bag.

Now, nearly a year later, Mur­taza Ah­madi has fi­nally met his idol.

Mur­taza trav­eled to Qatar, where Ar­gen­tine su­per­star Messi had trav­eled with his Barcelona team­mates to play a friendly match against Saudi Ara­bia’s Al-Ahli on Tues­day. Barcelona won 5-3.

“I’m very happy to have met my hero. It is a dream for me,” said Mur­taza.

Mur­taza, now 6, also was among stars like An­dreas Ini- esta, Ney­mar and Luis Suarez be­fore the game, but it was Messi, a five-time world player of the year, who held his at­ten­tion. Be­fore the game, Mur­taza was seen em­brac­ing the Barcelona star’s legs. They walked out hand-in­hand to the field.

Mur­taza joined in on the Barcelona team pho­to­graph and placed the ball on the cen­ter cir­cle be­fore run­ning back to Messi’s side, with the ref­eree hav­ing to take the grin­ning boy from the field.

The boy be­came an in­ter­net sen­sa­tion early this year when pictures of him play­ing near his home in eastern Ghazni prov­ince were widely cir­cu­lated. They showed him wear­ing a blue-and-white plas­tic bag in an im­pro­vised ver­sion of the Ar­gen­tine na­tional team’s jersey, with Messi’s name and his No 10 writ­ten in black marker.

A few weeks later, Messi sent signed Barcelona and Ar­gentina jer­seys to Mur­taza.

But not ev­ery­thing has been good about the fame. “I re­ceived 20 to 30 un­known threat­en­ing calls in Afghanistan ask­ing why I’m teach­ing my kid about foot­ball and not teach­ing him about the Qu­ran,” the boy’s fa­ther, Muham­mad Arif Ah­madi, said.

The family was forced to flee over the bor­der and set­tled in the Pak­istani city of Quetta.

KARIM JAAFAR / AFP, AP, OMAR SOBHANI / REUTERS

Right: Lionel Messi talks to Mur­taza Ah­madi, 6, on Tues­day. The Afghan boy’s story spread on the in­ter­net in Jan­uary af­ter he wore a replica of a Messi jersey (left top) made from a plas­tic bag. In Fe­bru­ary, Mur­taza (left bot­tom) wears a shirt signed by Messi.

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