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Belarus lays out red carpet for Barcelona

Messi or no Messi, Belarus laid on a great reception for Barcelona, with fans jetting in from as far away as Kazakhstan to watch them beat BATE Borisov on Tuesday.

Fans greet Luis Suárez's arrival in Belarus
Fans greet Luis Suárez's arrival in Belarus ©Pressball

Not for the first time, Barcelona caused a major stir in Belarus, with fans crossing borders to watch their 2-0 UEFA Champions League success against BATE Borisov.

Back in September 2011, a crowd of 40,000 turned up to see the Catalan side beat BATE 5-0 at the Dinamo Stadium in Minsk. With only 13,000 or so tickets available for the rematch at Borisov-Arena, demand was insanely high, with huge queues following the announcement on Monday that 300 more places had been made available following the visitors' decision not to take up their full allocation.

Catalan was not exactly the lingua franca among the away supporters in Borisov, with Barcelona fans from Russia, Lithuania and even Kazakhstan seizing on the opportunity to come and watch their idols in the flesh.

The European champions touched down in Belarus on Monday evening, with hundreds of fans forming a reception committee in the airport, undeterred by the absences of Lionel Messi and Andrés Iniesta.

Fans queue for extra tickets at Borisov-Arena
Fans queue for extra tickets at Borisov-Arena©Pressball

BATE president Anatoli Kapski was sad not to see those two modern greats in action this time around. "Messi is the best player in the world," he said Kapski. "It would have been better if he was fit and he came here as he is a treasure for every football fan in the world. I see Messi as the best player of the 21st century, or maybe even better."

BATE midfielder Igor Stasevich also felt the Argentinian's absence, adding: "It is the ultimate joy to meet such a master on the pitch. However, Barça still have plenty of other world-class players in the squad."

Messi or no Messi, Belarusian fans greeted Barcelona just as warmly, with crowds gathering at the team hotel two hours in advance of their arrival. Neymar was the focus of fans' attention as they made their way to their check-in desk, supporters desperate to lay a hand on the Brazilian as he passed by.

Ivan Rakitić was to outshine Neymar on the night, though; he scored both of Barcelona's goals as they utterly dominated the newly-crowned Belarusian champions. Home fans were not too dispirited, though. Aleksandr Yermakovich's side made it to half-time with the game still goalless; and 2-0 is a much better result than 5-0.

Barcelona discovered that they have some devoted fans in Belarus
Barcelona discovered that they have some devoted fans in Belarus©AFP/Getty Images