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Messi incident: How a Qatar resident saved Argentina’s pre-match pennant exchange

This incident echoes a similar situation from 36 years ago, when AFA staff had to hurriedly purchase shirts in Mexico for a match against England during the quarter finals.

As the pre-match ritual goes, Lionel Messi had to give an AFA pennant to his French counterpart , goalkeeper Hugo Lloris, before Argentina’s game against France, according to Tiempo Argentino.

However, the clock to the final was ticking and there was no pennant available for the exchange, prompting the AFA team to launch a last-minute hunt that led to Qatari resident, Javier Maluf.

The Argentinian expat is an avid Argentine kit collector.

Maluf, an 18-year resident of Doha, welcomed 50 compatriots to his home in Doha the night before the final on December 17, including four 1986 champions. However, the celebrations were interrupted with a worried call that requested Maluf, who had been in touch with the delegation during the World Cup as a sort of local contact.

“Javi, we have to ask you a favour, do you have an Argentine pennant? We don’t have to give to the French captain,” they asked the owner of the house, knowing that at his home in Qatar he collects almost a thousand shirts, many of them from the national team, including the one that Diego Maradona wore against England in 1980.

“I have two, but please wait until tomorrow morning, as I don’t store them here,” he responded.

Naturally, these would not be identical to those Messi had previously presented to opposing team captains, but they would suffice in rectifying the situation. As with any collectible item, both pennants possessed a certain vintage appeal and minor imperfections, such as frayed edges.

On the morning of Sunday 18 December, with everything in place except for the pennant, Maluf shared a photo of his two options: one from Argentina’s early 1990s team, evident in images of Oscar Ruggeri from the 1991 Copa América, and another, more contemporary design adorned with gold fringes and featuring two stars.


The AFA administrators ultimately selected the latter option.

The pennant, which had slept in a trunk before being handed to Messi, had made its way to Qatar via German Uli Stielike, a former footballer for Real Madrid and his national team during the ’70s and ’80s, who later became a coach.

Stielike’s first stint as a coach was with the Swiss team, which played Argentina in a friendly match in 1990; he had preserved the pennant ever since. He brought it with him to Doha between 2008 and 2014 while coaching Qatari clubs.

As part of his collection, Maluf gave it the Argentine delegation in Doha, inscribed his initials on the back of the pennant, and handed it over just hours before the final.

The support staff took care of the pennant by trimming any uneven threads and prepared it for Messi to carry onto the field, a pennant that remained unused until the eve of the match.

After the national anthems, Messi presented it to Lloris, and since then, it has been in French possession.

A long standing tradition

The exchange of pennants between team captains is a long-standing tradition in international football matches, including prestigious tournaments such as the World Cup and regional championships.

This pre-match ritual is a symbol of respect, goodwill, and sportsmanship between teams and nations.

Pennants are small, triangular or rectangular flags or banners that display the team’s colours, emblem, and often the country’s flag. They may also include the date and location of the match or tournament.

Before the start of the game, the captains of both teams meet at the centre of the field, accompanied by the referees. In a short ceremony, the captains exchange pennants as a gesture of respect and camaraderie.