ARGENTINA is the economic basket case of the world, with incredible 88 per cent inflation and four in 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 and work 16-hour days in a desperate struggle to pay rocketing bills.
Dan CharityArgentina fans have put financial worries aside to travel to Qatar to watch the World Cup[/caption]
Dan CharityFans have flown en masse to watch Lionel Messi attempt to win the World Cup[/caption]
GettyMessi is playing at his last World Cup and attempting to win the one trophy missing from his collection[/caption]
Argentina fans in the 89,000-seat venue will outnumber the French by at least ten to one, creating an astonishing wall of sound.
But their dream of ending their nation’s 36-year wait for soccer’s Holy Grail is the only ray of hope for a country blighted by economic woes.
Argentina has spent more time in recession than almost any other nation since the 1950s and has had double-figure inflation for decades.
The Argentine peso has also lost 30 per cent of its value in recent months and lack of cash reserves, foreign investment and confidence in President Alberto Fernandez’s regime has sent inflation to that amazing rate of 88 per cent — with predictions it will top 100 per cent in the New Year.
GettyArgentina fans are expected to outnumber France supporters 10 to one at the final[/caption]
‘WE DESERVE SOME JOY’
But tens of thousands of fans have travelled to Qatar from Argentina — where prices have been skyrocketing faster than in any other G20 nation.
In contrast, many England and Wales fans — with UK inflation at around just nine per cent — shunned Qatar’s pricey tournament.
But despite Argentina’s problems at home, even senior politicians in the capital Buenos Aires believe winning the World Cup is now the impoverished nation’s top priority.
Asked whether lifting the trophy was more important than tackling inflation, Labour Minister Kelly Olmos shrugged: “We must constantly work against inflation, but one month won’t make a huge difference.
“We want Argentina to be champions — the Argentine people really deserve some joy.”
Dan CharityNicolas Orellano from Buenos Aires says he has no idea how he will get home[/caption]
Lawyer Nicolas Orellano — who also runs a wine business in Buenos Aires to help make ends meet — used all his savings and borrowed money from his girlfriend to go to Qatar.
Nicolas, 30, is now virtually penniless and is living in a bustling Argentine fan commune in Barwa Barahat Al Janoub, south of Doha, dubbed “Little Buenos Aires”.
Yesterday fans there were roasting a lamb donated by Argentina’s ambassador to Qatar on a makeshift barbecue beneath a giant Messi banner as footy anthems blared from a loudspeaker.
Nicolas said: “I have no money and no idea how I’ll get home but there is no way I can leave, now we’re so close to seeing Lionel Messi lift the World Cup.
“Our politicians back home have let us down but our football team has not — they are the only hope we have.
“It is a special kind of madness which brings us here when we have so little.
“My girlfriend supports me and loaned me $500 (£410) when my cash ran out.
“But I know some people who have sold their homes to find the money to travel to Qatar.
“The people of Argentina are suffering but they love it that so many of us are here and are even donating money to us so we can stay and support the team.
“I still don’t have a ticket for the final but would give anything and everything to be there, having been to five games so far — and I’m sure we will win.”
Accountant and part-time meat trader Javier Mahmud, 36, had been struggling to save a deposit for his first home in Buenos Aires with partner of 15 years Carla Barletta, 34.
But Carla supported his decision to clear out their entire savings account to travel to Doha via Egypt and Lebanon.
Javier, at his third World Cup, said: “We have the best fans in the world who are giving everything to be here.
“Our country is in a terrible state economically but Lionel Messi will repay us by winning tomorrow.
“I have very little money left and no ticket for the final but I still hope to find a way of being there after following the team this far.
“I’ll be flat broke when I get home, with no money to buy Christmas presents, but I won’t care and my family will understand. The only gift we want is the World Cup.”
Fridge repair man Sergio Pendola, 30, from Buenos Aires, flew to Doha via Spain and Saudi Arabia to see his third World Cup finals.
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 willing him to win.
“There is no question that he is the best footballer on the planet now and Kylian Mbappe will be no match for him.
“Our fans are the 12th man for the team. I’ve spent my entire $6,000 (£4,920) savings and borrowed another $4,000 (£3,280) — but many here have sacrificed much more.
‘FOOTBALL IS ALL WE HAVE’
Fan Evelyn Galiano has the middle name Milagros — Spanish for miracles — because she survived being born six months premature.
But she said: “We do not need another miracle — we have Messi.”
Evelyn, 26, is working in Andorra as a chef, but told her boss she needed a month off to see her idols.
She said: “It is the last World Cup for Messi, that’s why I am here, and it has been beyond all my expectations.
“I’m travelling alone but three of the guys here ran out of money for accommodation and are staying in my room.
“They are staying for free — I wanted to help them. I feel completely safe because we are all fans together.”
Mauro Fernandez, 32, a chef from Buenos Aires, travelled from Thailand via Madrid to get to Doha.
He said: “I paid 400 US dollars (£328) for the Holland match and 600 (£492) for Croatia but I have run out of money.
“They are asking more than 1,000 (£820) for the final ticket so I may have to watch 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 is all about seeing Messi lift that trophy. I’ve been here for ten days and I’m not sure how I will get home.
“I know Messi is better than Mbappe, he is the best.
“There will be 50,000 Argentina fans at the final, there are more flights coming in from Buenos Aires. Yesterday they were completely full.”
Gaston Didier-Lardet, 33, from San Luis, near the Argentine city of Mendoza, made the 12-hour, 6,500-mile flight from Australia, where he was working at a mine.
He is now living in a low-rise block in the Argentine fan village, and said: “This is not the Sheraton but the atmosphere with the fans is just great.
“It feels like home — we are surrounded by fans, we have barbecues and music.
“I am a Messi soldier — he is proof of total sacrifice.
“I’ve got a ticket for the final and I am very lucky. I am nervous and will not sleep, but I am looking forward to it.
“I’ve probably spent around $10,000 (£8,200) but it is hard to explain why — I just had to be here.
“I’ve heard crazy stories of people selling their houses, their cars, possessions, anything to see Messi lift that World Cup.
“We know it is his last chance and he is a God to us. I think he is going to do it.”
Dan CharityArgentina are biddingto win their first World Cup since 1986[/caption]
AFPArgentina fans have made stadiums in Qatar feel like home for the players[/caption]
Dan CharityArgentina fans roast a lamb donated by Argentina’s ambassador to Qatar on a makeshift barbecue[/caption]
Dan CharityArgentina fans’ tributes to the great Diego Maradona are easy to spot[/caption]