Football: Fans welcome Argentina football team, Messi spotted on transit

A group of Argentina fans waiting outside CIP Terminal for the Argentina team bus on June 10, 2017.
A group of Argentina fans waiting outside CIP Terminal for the Argentina team bus on June 10, 2017.ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
A huge crowd greeting the arrival of Lionel Messi at The Fullerton Hotel in Singapore. ST VIDEO: ALVIN CHIA
Five-time Fifa Player of the Year, Lionel Messi leaving the JetQuay CIP Terminal on June 10, 2017.
Five-time Fifa Player of the Year, Lionel Messi leaving the JetQuay CIP Terminal on June 10, 2017.PHOTO: FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE
Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Ángel Di María smiling for the cameras at the JetQuay CIP Terminal on June 10, 2017.
Paris Saint-Germain midfielder Ángel Di María smiling for the cameras at the JetQuay CIP Terminal on June 10, 2017.PHOTO: FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE
22 year-old Argentine midfielder Joaquin Correa pictured at the JetQuay CIP Terminal on June 10, 2017.
22 year-old Argentine midfielder Joaquin Correa pictured at the JetQuay CIP Terminal on June 10, 2017.PHOTO: FOOTBALL ASSOCIATION OF SINGAPORE
Argentina star Lionel Messi lowering his head in the team bus departing CIP Terminal after arriving in Singapore on June 10, 2017.
Argentina star Lionel Messi lowering his head in the team bus departing CIP Terminal after arriving in Singapore on June 10, 2017.PHOTO: KEVIN LIM
Juventus and Argentina forward Paulo Dybala (right) seen on the team bus leaving CIP Terminal after arriving in Singapore on June 10, 2017.
Juventus and Argentina forward Paulo Dybala (right) seen on the team bus leaving CIP Terminal after arriving in Singapore on June 10, 2017.PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

SINGAPORE - Barely 24 hours earlier, they had played before a crowd of nearly 100,000 passionate fans at the famed Melbourne Cricket Ground.

On Saturday evening (June 10), the Argentina football team attempted to, but failed, to make a nondescript entrance into Singapore.

At Changi Airport's Jet Quay private terminal, a media scrum awaited the entrance of Angel di Maria, Javier Mascherano and their team-mates before being asked to leave.

Contrary to earlier media reports, the team arrived with five-time Fifa Player of the Year, Lionel Messi, in tow. He was spotted on the team bus leaving the airport grounds and arriving at the Fullerton Hotel.

However, the player was only here on transit as he left the hotel for the airport at about 9.30pm. Sources said he was on his way back to Barcelona. 

Local and foreign media had reported earlier in the week that the Barcelona superstar was set to skip the match against Singapore as he was due to return to Argentina to prepare for his June 30 nuptials with his long-time sweetheart Antonella a Roccuzzo, the mother of his two sons Thiago and Mateo.​ Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli had also confirmed that Messi would not appear at Kallang.

While Messi remained at the hotel, the rest of the team were being put through their paces at Bishan Stadium despite having arrived after a long flight.

Despite knowing that Messi would not feature in Tuesday's game, the news failed to dampen many fans' enthusiasm. 

Jasper Chai, a St Joseph's Institution Secondary 4 student, had camped at the airport with two friends since 11am hoping to catch a glimpse of their favourite football stars.

Jasper said: "You watch them on TV but never expect to see them in real life. I'm happy even to know that I will be among the first people in Singapore they will see from the bus."

Over at the Fullerton Hotel, about 50 supporters milled about patiently for some time waiting for their heroes to arrive from the airport. They included a small group of Juventus fans who recorded a "Welcome to Singapore" video greeting for Paulo Dybala.

In anticipation of the fan interest, staff of the hotel had put up barricades for security and crowd control at about 3.45pm. Barely half an hour later, a large privacy screen appeared in the lobby before being taken down 20 minutes later. Had the screen, a large piece of white cloth, been left up, it would have blocked the fans from getting a glimpse of the players as they made their entrance into the hotel.

Late last night, the organisers of the Singapore-Argentina game issued a statement confirming that Messi would not feature in Tuesday's game. It added that Gonzalo Higuain and Nicolas Otamendi would also not be at Kallang.

The statement from the Football Association of Singapore and match promoter UNICESS read: "Further to the speculation from the last two days, international match promoter UNICESS received confirmation this evening that due to personal reasons, Lionel Messi, Gonzalo Higuain and Nicolas Otamendi will not feature in the Singapore Vs Argentina football match at the National Stadium on Tuesday, 13 June 2017.

"The Argentina team will be announced at the pre-match press conference. While we share the disappointment of football fans in Singapore and elsewhere at the absence of these players, we still very much look forward to what will be an exciting football match against a team that will continue to feature a world class line-up of players.

"We very much hope that fans will enjoy this historical fixture and we encourage fans to show their support for the Lions at the National Stadium as they take on the No. 2 ranked team in the world."

Argentina got their tour off to a fine start by downing old rivals Brazil 1-0 in Sampaoli's first game in charge on Friday.​

Tickets for the Singapore-Argentina game, which will take place at the National Stadium at Kallang, are available at sportshubtix.com.sg.