As Argentina claimed its decisive 2-0 World Cup victory over Poland, thousands of fans were erupting in celebration on a grassy field in Bangladesh early Thursday. From young children to retirees, many clad in blue and white or waving Argentinian flags, the throng stood for nearly the entire match as they watched on giant screens in the main square of the capital’s Dhaka University. The Latin football powerhouse — and star forward Lionel Messi — have a huge fanbase in the South Asian country, where cricket is king but football is building a devoted following.
A volunteer told AFP that about 12,000 people could comfortably watch on three massive LED screens set up on campus.
Freshman Tawsif Imran said he had come with friends to watch his favourite player, Messi, play in his final World Cup.
“When I was young, my father used to tell me Argentina is a great team. But when I grew up and finally started understanding football, I became a big fan of Messi,” he told AFP during the half-time break.
“I hope we will win, he (Messi) deserves it,” he added.
Earlier, after Messi missed a penalty shot, the cheering crowd fell silent.
But when Alexis Mac Allister scored the first goal, the campus erupted with the sound of blasting vuvuzelas and firecrackers.
Another Argentina fan, Shamsul Arefin, said it was his third day watching World Cup matches on the giant screens.
“God willing, we will go through to the final and eventually win (the World Cup),” he said.
The cacophony reached a fever pitch when Julian Alvarez scored the team’s second goal at the 67-minute mark, the sound of revving motorbikes filling the air alongside the cheers.
The field was a scene of pure joy as the referee’s final whistle confirmed Argentina had made it to the knockout round.
Bangladeshi fans of Brazil, who often get into debates that range from amicable to violent with their Argentina-loving counterparts, also came to the game — but to support their rivals.
“I am a Brazil fan. But my Argentina-fan friends brought me here today. They thanked me with this garland. I’m hoping for a Brazil-Argentina confrontation in the semifinals,” said businessman Rashidul Islam.
Food and beverage hawkers and cycle-rickshaw pullers were also enjoying the match while taking advantage of the crowds.
Humayun Kabir, a garment peddler, told AFP his sales of team jerseys had been through the roof this World Cup.
“I’m making more money than any other season,” he said with a wide smile, explaining how local fans wanted to feel part of the excitement.
Argentina play Australia in the round of 16 on Sunday.
“We will definitely come and cheer for Messi,” Humaira Tasneem, a Dhaka University university student, said.