Barcelona's Lionel Messi meets young Afghan fan who became internet star
Lionel Messi has met the Afghan child who became an internet sensation after being photographed in an Argentina shirt made from a plastic bag earlier this year.
Murtaza Ahmady, who is now six, went viral in February when an image emerged of him wearing the striped carrier bag with Messi's famous No. 10 on the back.
Courtesy of the Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy (SC), the youngster has had the chance to meet the Barcelona star in Qatar, where the Catalan side are playing a friendly against Al-Ahli on Tuesday.
"I'm very happy to have met my hero," Murtaza told the SC's official website. "It is a dream for me. I can't wait to see Messi at the game, it will be the first time for me in the stadium."
Not only will Murtaza be watching the game, but he will be one of the player escorts and walk out onto the pitch in Doha alongside Messi.
The meeting was facilitated by the SC after they became inspired by the youngster's story.
"It was inspirational to meet Murtaza, and see him fulfil his dream," a SC spokesman said. "We were all kids once and had dreams and in Qatar many of us still have them.
"Murtaza's dream was to meet his hero. We are in a fortunate position here that we were able to bring them together. It's about a kid and his dream. That's it. That pretty much sums up the power of football.
"We were struck by his story from the beginning, and are delighted that we made the meeting happen. The story is symbolic of our belief that football can change lives for the better, and inspire youngsters from across our region and beyond."
After the original image surfaced, Messi, through UNICEF, arranged for a signed Argentina shirt to be sent to Murtaza.
At first there were several false claims from families pretending to be behind the photo, although the root of the image was eventually established via the child's uncle in Australia.
Since then, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, Murtaza's father, has explained that the family has been forced to flee Afghanistan for Quetta, Pakistan, in search of a better life.
Ahmadi said he feared that his son would be kidnapped after becoming an internet sensation -- both in Afghanistan and elsewhere -- after the pictures of him wearing a Messi shirt made out of a plastic bag went viral.
"Life became a misery for us," Ahmadi said in a telephone call with the Associated Press. He added that the family did not want to leave Afghanistan, but the threats were growing more and more serious.
Samuel Marsden covers Barcelona for ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @SamuelMarsden.