The most-liked photograph in the history of Instagram is, it has been revealed, a bit of a mix-up. When Leo Messi hoisted the World Cup trophy aloft in front of Argentina fans massed inside Qatar’s Lusail Stadium on December 18, the image garnered over 74 million thumbs-up on the Paris Saint-Germain forward’s personal account. However, it was not the genuine World Cup trophy. It was in fact a handmade replica that a couple of Argentina fans from Buenos Aires had crafted and taken to Qatar as a talisman and a sort of souvenir.
Amid the euphoria of Argentina’s penalty shoot-out defeat of France in the final, this replica trophy found its way from the stands onto the pitch and ended up in Messi’s hands. The Argentina captain paraded the fake for several minutes without realizing that it was not the one that had been handed to him by FIFA president Gianni Infantino at the end of the game. Messi’s teammate Ángel di María alerted him to the misunderstanding while Argentina’s players were still celebrating on the pitch, drawing an amused smile from the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner.
Social media users in Argentina, on the other hand, have not taken the incident in such good humor, anonymously blaming the pair of fans whose replica found its way into Messi’s hands for ruining the iconic photos – wallpapers on cellphones and computer screens, posters in bedrooms – in which Messi and Argentina’s champions, after delivering soccer’s greatest prize to the nation after a 36-year wait, are actually holding a fake.
Two days after the final, Fernando de la Orden, a photographer for the Argentinean newspapers Clarín and Olé, posted a picture on his Instagram account of a laughing Di María, holding the World Cup in his hands, and Messi. Another Buenos Aires-based photojournalist, Santiago Bluguermann, asked if he knew what the two players were talking about. De la Orden replied: “Di María was telling Leo that he had just done the lap of honor with a fake trophy and that he had the real one, that’s why they were laughing.”
Then Paula Zuzulich joined the conversation. “Fernando,” she wrote on the photographer’s account. “We are the owners of the fake trophy and passed it to the players on the pitch. It’s very funny, thank you.” Bizarrely, Zuzulich and De la Orden had met at the World Cup. “In Qatar I took a picture of her daughter and she started following me [on Instagram]. I uploaded a photo of Leo and Di María and told the story of the fake cup and the girl’s mother turned out to be the owner.”
When he returned to Buenos Aires, De la Orden visited Zuzulich and her husband, Manuel Zaro, at their home in La Plata outside the capital city. They displayed the fake trophy for Clarín and explained why Messi had not realized it was not the real thing. “Before the World Cup we got in touch with people who make trophies and it took six months to make it. It’s the same weight as the original, it’s made of resin and quartz on the inside and covered with gold-colored paint. There are a few details that are not the same, but the difference is minimal.”
The couple explained that they had passed the trophy down to the pitch in search of a unique souvenir. “The idea was to get the players to sign it, but in the end, it was taken down to the pitch three times. First a member of [Leandro] Paredes’ family got him to sign it. The second time we were asked for it, it was down there for 45 minutes, being passed from one player to another, from one relative to another, while photos were taken. The other fans in the stand told us: ‘You lost the cup.’ We were having fun but we wanted it back. That’s when I shouted to a couple of players: ‘That cup that Paredes has, it’s ours.’ In the end, Lautaro Martínez signed it and brought it back over. Then FIFA security arrived and asked us to hand it over to make sure it wasn’t the original.”
The genuine trophy that Infantino handed to Messi had only been on the pitch for a few minutes. After being lifted by the winning team’s captain, it is replaced by an official replica and the original is returned to FIFA headquarters in Switzerland. However, unlike at previous World Cups where the exchange takes place swiftly in a private room inside the stadium, in Qatar it was conducted on the field of play, which may have contributed to the confusion. At some point, Zaro and Zuzulich’s replica was added to the mix. It is not clear if there were three World Cups on the pitch at the same time, but for over half an hour there were two, one at each end of the stadium where the Argentina players were presenting the trophy to their fans: the official FIFA replica and the fake one from Buenos Aires.
Di María, who was on the opposite side of the stadium to Messi, later explained: “The security people told me: ‘Please don’t give the cup to anyone.’ I told them: ‘But there’s another cup over there,’ and they replied: ‘No, no, the one you have is the real one, that’s why we’re with you.’ That’s what I was telling Messi.”
Zaro said it was only a couple of hours after the celebrations had ended that the couple noticed Messi had been holding their fake cup: “When we saw the photos, we realized that Leo had lifted it. We saw details, especially on the base, which confirmed that it was ours. Antonella [Leo’s wife] lifted the cup too, as well as one of Messi’s sons.”
Far from wishing to brag about the incident – the couple had certainly not intended for the confusion to arise – Zaro and Zuzulich shared the story, which at first was met with amusement. Other fans, however, attacked the couple online, leading them to close their social media accounts and refrain from any public comment. They still have the trophy in their home – one of the most famous in soccer history – even if it is a fake.
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