BUENOS AIRES - Argentina's self-styled "first fan" Marcelo Martinez is so keen to see Lionel Messi and teammates at the World Cup that he arrived in Qatar six months early.
The first traveling Argentinian fan — and possibly the first visiting fan full stop — flew into Doha on May 3 with his blue-and-white wig, and has been having a blast ever since.
"Wonderful things have been happening," said the 54-year-old lawyer, who has found plenty of Qataris and expatriates sporting Argentina shirts. "They all love Messi and Argentina here."
Martinez hopes Messi will finally lift the trophy at his fifth and final World Cup finals after winning so many other accolades in the game.
Martinez, having plenty of time on his hands, was able to serenade Argentina's Ángel Di María and Leandro Paredes when they visited Doha with Paris St Germain earlier this year.
"I was in the door of the hotel waiting for them, with my Argentinian flag and wig. Someone came along and asked me what I was doing, took my number then offered me his house for two months, which ended up being three," he said. "I didn't have to do anything, just look after his pets while he was traveling to Argentina."
Some local clubs have contacted Martinez to invite him to their games. After one match, fellow Argentinian Sergio Vittor, who plays for Qatar's Al-Sailiya, gave him his shirt.
Several thousand Argentinians are expected to descend on Qatar for the tournament starting next month but not all are having an easy ride.
Engineers Federico Guevara and Justina Aguirre Saraviaandi, both 32, flew to Barcelona at the end of April, bought a motorhome and headed for the journey-of-a-lifetime to Qatar. But they have just found out they cannot drive into Qatar and sleep in their vehicle as planned, and are appealing to Argentina's embassy and football association for help.
"We set off with the same idea, that Qatar was opening its doors to the world, we checked it all out," Guevara said from a stop in Bulgaria. "But they changed the rules. We have tickets, everything sorted out. Then they do this two months before."
Qatar requires all drivers who hope to bring vehicles in after Nov. 1 to apply for a special permit costing $1,370. Despite that issue, Guevara and Saraviaandi were enjoying the journey as far as it takes them.
"In Croatia, there's a kid with a Messi shirt in every little village," Guevara said. "In Montenegro, we got lost and ended up in a little street, and there was a mural of Diego (Maradona) which said, 'Farewell, Golden Kid!' In the middle of Montenegro."
(Reporting by Ramiro Scandalo; Additional reporting by Andrew Mills in Doha; Writing by Andrew Cawthorne; Editing by Peter Rutherford)