Thomás and Juliana. Juliana Yatorno/Family Photo CNN —
As captain of the Argentine national team, Lionel Messi fulfilled his lifelong dream by leading his country to World Cup glory at Qatar 2022.
In the first few days of 2023, as Messi prepared to give an interview to Argentine radio presenter Andy Kusnetzoff’s show “Perros de la Calle” on Urbana Play, the World Cup winner knew that he would soon also fulfil someone else’s dream.
Juliana Yatorno waits for a call from the other side of the world. She is at her house in Argentina and has no idea what is about to happen.
An idea to honor Messi
In 2018, Thomás, Juliana’s husband, made some cards with Lionel Messi’s face on them to distribute to thousands of people at the World Cup in Russia, to share his devotion to Argentina’s No. 10 as a way of showing the gratitude of an entire country.
“Thomás was a very ingenious and very creative person,” Juliana, known as Juli, tells CNN Español as she remembers that year.
“He comes to me one day and he shows me that he had written ‘Messi´s prayer,’ which is the Lord’s Prayer adapted to Messi and all his magic with the ball.
“He shows it to me and says: ‘Don’t you want to make me a little card?’”
At the time, Thomás was planning to travel with his brother and his cousin from Argentina to Russia to watch the national team.
“His idea was to hand them out on the street so that everyone had a card. People asked him to give them one because it was a photo of Messi. I mean, who doesn’t want a photo of Messi?” Juli says.
The cards Thomás made for their trip to Russia. Courtesy Juliana Yatorno
Guido, Thomás’ brother, also remembers that trip fondly.
“We have been soccer fans since we were children and one day Thomy told me something about the little cards,” Guido tells CNN.
“We were making a fairly austere trip, with backpacks, with carry-on luggage because of the traveling, and a few days before traveling he told us: ‘Well, on the flight you are going to take about 8,000, 10,000 cards.’ And the idea was for Messi to know about this.”
That year, Argentina was eliminated in the round of 16, though Thomás’ passion for Messi remain undiminished.
The cycle of life
After a decade together, Juli and Thomás got married and began trying for a child. Juli became pregnant in 2020, but shortly after learning the good news, Thomás died in a road accident.
“We had a motorcycle, a scooter,” Juliana recalls. “He had gone to play soccer with his friends and I didn’t realize what time it was. A friend called me in complete shock and screamed: ‘It’s him, he died.’
“It was like that. Instant. First, I worried about my health. I was pregnant and in shock, at that moment it was like: ‘No, I can’t.’ But then my head lit up with an idea and I said: ‘If he’s gone, this is what I have left of his essence.’”
During the 2021 Copa América, Guido and Juli continued to mourn Thomás’ death.
Messi guided Argentina to World Cup glory. Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post/Getty Images
“At that moment I couldn’t. I needed to have distance from the national team. It was as if I couldn’t watch something that was making me so sad,” Guido says.
“I remember going to look for the little cards that I had saved and I pasted a card behind the television. Well, it was at that moment with the Copa América that I became friends with the idea and that I began to experience a different relationship with the national team and with my brother,” says Guido.
Messi lifted the Copa America on July 10 after years of never having won the tournament with the Argentina national team. During the early hours of July 11, Juliana’s waters broke. A few hours after Messi’s milestone, their son Aureliano was born.
These cards bring luck
For the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, Juli gave one of the cards to a friend and they began sending it to each other over WhatsApp as a kind of “good luck trick,” she recalls.
“When I forgot to send the photo at the beginning of the game and I sent it halfway … [the team scored] a goal. I felt it so strongly, the magic that the little card had, that I said: ‘I have to spread this.’
“I was listening to the radio and I said: ‘I’m writing a letter, I have to send this to everyone.’
“I don’t remember a happier moment with something. I couldn’t stop thinking about him [Thomás] and obviously I was happy because we won the World Cup – and I was happy for Messi. But at the same time, it’s like I was saying: ‘I want to celebrate with you,’” Juli recalls, adding that she cried when Argentina beat France in the final.
Juliana and Thomás’ son was born the day after the 2021 Copa America final. Juliana Yatorno
She’s still waiting for a call from the other side of the world. In the radio program hosted by Kusnetzoff, they told her that they were preparing a special for the anniversary of the first month of the World Cup in Qatar and she cannot begin to imagine what is about to happen.
“Hello Juli,” a familiar voice says.
Messi is on the other end of the cell phone with a shy smile and with the little card that Thomy created five years ago in his hand.
“Here I have the little card and well, sorry for telling you this, but I’m sure somewhere he saw me lift the World Cup.”