An Afghan boy who gained online fame after a picture of him wearing a makeshift Lionel Messi jersey went viral has finally met his football hero in Doha, Qatar.
Murtaza Ahmadi was shown dressed in a blue-and-white-striped plastic bag with Barcelona and Argentina star Messi’s name and number etched in pen on the back in January.
The image, which garnered global attention after it was posted on a Messi fan site, sparked a manic search by fans to find the six-year-old from Jaghori, southwest of Kabul.
Now, almost 11 months later, a series of images and videos posted on social media by Qatar 2022 Supreme Committee Tuesday showed Messi and Murtaza meeting for the first time
“The image the world wanted to see. The six-year-old boy who dreamed of meeting his hero, #Messi, finally comes true,” the tweet accompanying one video said.
Another video showed Messi reaching out to hold hands with Murtaza, who was wearing a Barcelona jersey.
Messi and his Barcelona teammates were in the Qatari capital to play an exhibition match against Al Ahli of Saudi Arabia on Tuesday.
Spanish champion Barcelona is sponsored by Qatar Airways, while the Supreme Committee is responsible for delivering the emirate’s staging of the 2022 World Cup — the first to be held in the Middle East.
Ahmadi was given two autographed shirts and a signed football from the Messi by UNICEF workers in February, a gesture his father, Muhammad Arif Ahmadi, described to CNN at the time as “one of the happiest moments” of his son’s life.
Arif said Murtaza’s brother had initially helped him create the makeshift plastic bag jersey as the family was unable to purchase a real one.
Ahmadi family was subsequently forced to flee Afghanistan to Pakistan after receiving threats, Arif told CNN in May.
Arif described receiving “20-30 unknown threatening calls in Afghanistan asking why I’m teaching my kid about football and not teaching him about the Quran.”