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Messi-Crazed Crowd Swarms Copa America Practice03:36
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Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, waves to fans after a practice Thursday at Harvard University. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Argentina's Lionel Messi, left, waves to fans after a practice Thursday at Harvard University. (Charles Krupa/AP)
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Lionel Messi may be the world’s best soccer player. Argentina, his team, may be the world’s best national side. Late last week, while Argentina practiced before their Copa America quarterfinal game against Venezuela, I was moved to undertake a quest. It happened while I was watching the team practice, in the company of many, from behind a fence draped with green mesh.

Spanish was spoken there. A lot. But had any of the people speaking it come all the way from Argentina to this humble practice field next to the Harvard Business School just to see their team? It was a burning question. Or an excuse to talk with lots soccer fans. Let’s go with “burning question.” Also with quest.

"We used to live in Caracas for many years, and we moved recently to the U.S.," said one fan who identified himself as “Juan, Sr.”

Nice guy, but Caracas is in Venezuela, so I was 0-for-1. Though Juan, Jr., perched on Juan Sr.’s shoulders, wasn’t going to let his country of origin diminish his determination to at least imagine he could see Leo Messi.

"It’s right here. He’s shooting the ball," Juan, Jr. said. "He’s not like far away. He’s right here!"

A little further along the grassy slope where everyone was standing, a fellow in a Barcelona cap was singing the praises of the crowd’s favorite.

"It’s Messi! On the Argentine side. The best in the world," he said in Spanish.

He turned out to be from Honduras. 0-for-2.

So I moved on to speak with a woman in an Argentina jersey, with Messi’s number on the back.

"I want to watch Messi," she said. "He’s very famous and he plays for a very good team."

She's from Mexico and Salvador, neither of which is Argentina.

And so the quest, in which I was now 0-for-3, went on until I found…Belin.

"I am from Argentina. I vacation here," Belin said.

But was Belin vacationing here because the team from her country was playing here? Because otherwise, it wouldn’t count…

"No, because my sister live here…" she said.

Oh, so close. And close would have been all I could manage in the search for an actual Argentinian who’d come to Massachusetts to see Messi, if I hadn’t noticed one more woman in one of those blue and white jerseys. She was peeking through a tear in the green mesh.

She shook her head and made it clear that it would only happen if I’d risk making a fool of myself by relying on Spanish…because Paula — my last hope — spoke no English.

"¿Por qué estás aquí?" I asked.

She had planned her vacation to coincide with her team's appearance in the tournament, she explained in Spanish. But had she come to the U.S. specifically to see her team play?

"Aquí para la selección?" I asked.

"Sí," she replied.

"Oh, sí? Bueno. Perfecto. Gracias."

She was here now for that reason, so gracias, indeed, for my burning question had been answered, yes. Or, sí, actually. And just in time. The gates in that fence were opening so media members could enter to watch the final minutes of Team Argentina at play.

Perhaps Paula traveled to Houston to see Argentina in the Copa America semifinal on Tuesday, or maybe she watched it on TV from Massachusetts. In either case, she must have been delighted. Her team handily beat the U.S., 4-0. The Copa America final will match Argentina against Chile on Sunday night.

This segment aired on June 25, 2016.

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