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regular-article-logo Saturday, 20 April 2024

Messi hope for Kerala in October 2025 as Argentina willing to play two friendlies

The announcement follows an online meeting between Kerala and Argentina officials late on Thursday, two weeks after the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino (AFA) had informed the Kerala government of its readiness to play in response to an invitation sent in June last year

K.M. Rakesh Bangalore Published 20.01.24, 05:32 AM
Representational image

Representational image File picture

The Argentine national football team has expressed willingness to play two friendlies in Kerala in October 2025, state sports minister V. Abdurahiman said on Friday.

"Messi will come," the minister told reporters when asked if the Argentina captain, who will be 38 at the time, would be part of the visiting team.

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The announcement follows an online meeting between Kerala and Argentina officials late on Thursday, two weeks after the Asociación del Fútbol Argentino (AFA) had informed the Kerala government of its readiness to play in response to an invitation sent in June last year.

Whether the Argentine team would play the Indian national side or some other international team(s) would be decided later.

While the AFA had in its email to Abdurahiman in the first week of January said it was willing to play one game in July this year, the state had sought a change to the schedule.

"We informed them about the difficulty in hosting (the game) since it would be monsoon here. So they agreed to play in October 2025," Abdurahiman said in a Facebook post.

He told reporters that Argentine players and officials were aware of the huge support their team had received from Kerala fans during the Qatar World Cup.

"We were told that all the players, including their captain, have expressed interest in playing in Kerala. They spoke about the Argentina fans in Kerala at great length," the minister said.

Abdurahiman, Kerala state secretary of sports Pranab Jyothinath, Kerala Football Association president Nawaz Meeran and the AFA’s head of international relations, Pablo Diaz, were among those who participated in the online meeting.

The Left Democratic Front government had stepped in when the All India Football Federation turned down the AFA’s offer to play in India during the June 2023 international window. The AIFF had cited the high cost of hosting the world champion side, which eventually chose to play against Indonesia in Jakarta and Australia in Beijing.

"They accepted the invitation from Kerala whose fans had turned our state into a sea of blue during the Qatar World Cup," Abdurahiman wrote on Facebook.

"Although organising these friendlies will be a big task, it will be the best gift to the football lovers of Kerala and the biggest motivation for our players."

Abdurahiman said the meeting also discussed ways in which the AFA can help with the development of football in Kerala.

"The AFA expressed interest in playing an active role in the development of football in Kerala. They also expressed interest in training 5,000 young footballers by cooperating with the Goal football training project of the Kerala government," he wrote.

The Argentine ambassador to India, Hugo Javier Gobbi, had hosted Kerala chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan in Delhi in April 2023 and presented the blue-and-white team jersey to him, thanking the fans from the state.

Former footballer I.M. Vijayan was among those present at the thanksgiving event.

Argentina last played a friendly in India against Venezuela at the Salt Lake Stadium in Calcutta in 2011. Lionel Messi scored the lone goal before 85,000 fans.

Kerala’s football fans have traditionally been split between Argentina and Brazil, with a smattering of support for Portugal mainly because of Cristiano Ronaldo.

During the Qatar World Cup, giant cut-outs of Messi, Neymar and Ronaldo — each costing more than Rs 1 lakh – were put up across the state.

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