An Afghan boy who became an Internet sensation after pictures of him wearing an improvised Lionel Messi football shirt went viral finally got to meet his superstar idol Tuesday.
Murtaza Ahmadi met the Barcelona forward in Doha, where the Spanish league champions played a friendly match against Saudi Arabian side Al-Ahli later.
Six-year-old Murtaza, from the rural Ghazni province southwest of Kabul, also walked out onto the pitch with the Argentinian at Doha's Al-Gharrafa stadium.
The boy became an internet sensation early this year when pictures of him playing near his home in eastern Ghazni province were widely circulated. They showed him wearing a plastic bag — in blue-and-white stripes, like the Argentina national team jersey — with Messi and the No. 10 written in black marker.
A few weeks later, Messi sent signed Barcelona and Argentina jerseys to Murtaza.
Murtaza's father, Mohammad Arif Ahmadi, said in May that the family was forced to leave Afghanistan amid constant telephone threats and fears that Murtaza would be kidnapped because of his sudden notoriety.
"Life became a misery for us," said the father at the time, speaking to The Associated Press over the telephone from the Pakistani city of Quetta, where the family had settled.
The meeting between Messi and Murtaza comes at a time when Qatar is introducing long-expected reforms to policies governing its vast foreign-labor force, who labor and human rights activists say are open to abuse by the current system.
Qatar says it is abolishing the "kafala" sponsorship system that binds workers to their employer. Rights groups say the changes fall far short of what is needed to protect the multitudes of mostly Asian low-wage workers transforming the tiny country.