ROSARIO, ARGENTINA (AFP) - Football and showbiz stars gather in northern Argentina for Latin America's celebrity wedding bash of the decade when Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi marries his childhood sweetheart Antonella Roccuzzo on Friday (June 30).
Pop star Shakira and her husband, Messi's teammate Gerard Pique, are expected among the 260 guests, according to media and locals close to the event.
They will join old friends of the couple and footballers such as his Barcelona strike partners Luis Suarez and Neymar.
The party at a casino in his hometown Rosario will be a respite for the player from his legal woes. A Spanish court last month rejected his appeal against a conviction for tax fraud.
Brunette bride Roccuzzo, 29, will wear a dress by Spanish designer Rosa Clara, which has been flown over from Barcelona. The designer has dressed stars such as actresses Eva Longoria and Sofia Vergara as well as Spain's Queen Letizia.
From 2200 GMT the guests will pack into the Hotel City-Center Casino, which stands right next to a crime-ridden slum run by drug gangs.
"Messi's wedding accentuates the sense of inequality that is symbolized by the casino in that neighborhood," said Carlos del Frade, author of several books on the drug trade in Rosario.
This city of 1.2 million people is also a cradle of footballing talent, however.
"Rosario lives and breathes football. That is another reason Lionel feels so comfortable here," the city's mayor, Monica Fein, told AFP. "I think he is excited that through his wedding his friends (from abroad) will be able to get to know the city he loves so much."
The civil wedding ceremony and party will all take place inside the venue, and the guests will be lodged there too.
Messi, 30 - considered a man of few words - has reportedly asked chefs to cook local delicacies such as "locro" stew and "empanada" pasties for the feast. The star dish is a typical Argentine beef roast including chitterlings, gizzards and kidneys.
Uruguayan pop bands Rombai and Marama plus singer Karina, wife of Argentina footballer Sergio Aguero, will perform at the dance.
It is not known whether the guests will also get a song from Shakira, the Colombian diva famous for "Whenever, Wherever." .
Some 155 journalists have been accredited to cover the bash, but have been warned they will have no access to the guests. Security will be handled by a private team of Israeli specialists used by Messi for all his excursions.
"In Lionel Messi's case, he's widely accepted by the people at all levels," said Diego Manso, a local private security consultant. "All the same, the security systems will never overlook the probability of a lot of people wanting to approach him, wanting to touch him, take photos with him, from their risk analysis."
Messi and Roccuzzo live in Barcelona where he plays, but still return regularly to Rosario on holiday. The couple had their two children baptized there last year: Thiago, 4 and one-year-old Mateo, both born in Barcelona.
"It's no surprise that he is coming back here to get married," one of the wedding guests, the player's old school friend Diego Vallejos, told AFP.
"He is an ordinary person who just wants to be near his family and friends. He is a humble person. Money has not changed his personality." Messi and Roccuzzo met as children. He moved to Spain when he was 13 to join FC Barcelona. But they kept in touch.
"They are the love of each other's lives," says Vallejos.