Updated: Thursday, 26 June 2014 00:18 | By Agence France-Presse

Blue and white deluge hits Porto Alegre

A blue and white deluge hit southern port city of Porto Alegre on Wednesday, as an estimated 100,000 Argentina fans, one resplendent in papal robes, came to pay homage to their footballing god, Lionel Messi, due to be in action against Nigeria in their final Group F match at the World Cup finals.


Blue and white deluge hits Porto Alegre

Argentine supporters gather outside Beira Rio stadium in Porto Alegre before Nigeria vs Argentina match on June 25, 2014 - by Lucas Uebel

A huge security operation was in place to offset any repeat of the ticketless Chilean fans' invasion of the media centre at Rio de Janeiro's Maracana last week for the game against Spain.

A total of 5,000 police, army, and local security officers equipped with guns, dogs, helicopters, and often a smile were on hand to keep the peace with a naval vessel patrolling the vast lake which borders the stadium.

Only fans lucky enough to have tickets were allowed through a vice-like security cordon set up around the streets leading to the Beira-Rio stadium.

Porto Alegre is the closest World Cup venue to Argentina and tens of thousands had driven across the border to attend with Messi and company already qualified for the last 16.

"We wouldn't have missed this for the world," said Martin Ferrari, 35, who had hopped on a ferry from Buenos Aires to Montevideo and then got behind the wheel of a hire car for the final 800 kilometre trip.

"Messi is our god," the computer analyst added.

Another Albiceleste supporter making the pilgrimage to Porto Alegre was Maximo, who had on flowing white robes, pontiff's hat, gold cross, the get-up finished off inevitably with the national team's colours.

"Argentina deserves to win a World Cup. The pope is Argentine and gives us his blessing!" the 40-year-old from Paso de los Libres told AFP, his arms outstretched as if he was addressing the masses in St Peter's Square.

Gustavo Cuadra and his 17-year-old son German continued the religious theme, with gold bishop's hats atop their heads.

"We are wearing these hats in tribute to the Holy Trinity - Pope Francisco, (Diego) Maradona and (Lionel) Messi," said Gustavo, a medical expert from Buenos Aires.

Another fan, Fernando from Las Parejas, then proclaimed what to some might seem like footballing blasphemy.

"Messi is better than Maradona," he stated, explaining: "Messi has a better character and is much more humble than Maradona. Yesterday was Leo's birthday (he was 27) and the best gift would be for him to score twice this afternoon.

"This is the second time I've seen a World Cup after 1978 when Argentina were crowned champions."

Messi has proved Argentina's saviour in their mission to claim for a third time football's holy grail.

The Barcelona legend's goal earned Alejandro Sabella's side an opening 2-1 victory against Bosnia-Hercegovina, and his stoppage time wonder goal finally cracked a resilient Iran for a 1-0 win that lifted them to the top of the group.

All they need is a draw against Nigeria to go through as Group F winners, avoid a likely clash with impressive France in the second round, and give Maximo and the rest of Messi's congregation further belief that a third world title iis attainable.

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