Around 400 eager fans turned out at Argentina’s World Cup base camp to catch a glimpse of Lionel Messi and his team-mates at an open training session.
A particularly affectionate welcome was reserved for the Barcelona forward, as hordes of adoring young supporters chanted “Messi, Messi” on his way out for an hour-long practice on Monday.
After several days of chilly temperatures in the Russian capital, overcast skies gave way to sunshine, with excited locals packing a temporary stand in Bronnitsy, southeast of Moscow, to follow the action.
Injury had already struck Argentina on the eve of their departure for the tournament, with West Ham midfielder Manuel Lanzini ruled out with a serious knee injury.
Enzo Perez was summoned as a replacement for Lanzini, although the status of Ever Banega for Argentina’s first group game against Iceland on June 16 remains uncertain after the Sevilla midfielder trained alone.
The odd Messi mask was spotted in the crowd, while others waved Barcelona flags, as well as those of Argentina.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner was then mobbed by dozens of youngsters the end of the session as players stopped to sign autographs.
Ernesto Lagorio, Argentina’s ambassador to Russia, was at the session at the sprawling training centre, used by several Russian national sports teams, on the banks of the River Moscow.
“We came to see our national team, it’s the first acquaintance with them, it’s been great,” Lagorio told AFP.
“We’ve already been to Bronnitsy several times, we’ve worked a lot with the authorities and the mayor. He’s helped us a lot, it’s been in the works for several months.”
Asked whether he would be attending matches, he replied: “I hope to show up until the final match in July.”