Kolkata: Countdown for the city's date with Lionel Messi began as Argentine footballers including the star forwards Gonzalo Higuaín and Sergio Agüero arrived here along with 19 members of Venezuela team in different batches for their FIFA International friendly on September 2.

The organisers maintained a hush-hush about Messi's arrival, but it was quite clear that the Argentine skipper, who fired in twice in Barcelona's 5-0 rout of Villareal in La Liga on Monday, would land here at around 3:10am tomorrow.

Messi and his Barca teammate Javier Mascherano are supposed to arrive together.

Even as the football-crazy city waited in a bated breath for Messi, the excitement was quite palpable at the airport where hundreds of fans gathered this morning to welcome the Argentine stars who landed here at around 8:15am.

The Argentines landed in two batches with the Manchester City striker Agüero and international midfielder Ricardo Álvarez among nine footballers who touched down at around 3:10am.

Real Madrid winger Ángel Di María and forward Higuaín along with Málaga defender Martín Demichelis arrived in the second lot of six.

The fans shouted 'three cheers for Argentina', 'three cheers for Messi' as the Albicelestes boarded the team bus that took them to team hotel adjacent to match venue - Yuba Bharati Krirangan - on EM Bypass.

At the team hotel, the Argentines received a traditional Indian welcome as the players headed straight to the fourth floor which is exclusively booked for the 51-member delegation of support staff and players.

Another Argentine, José Sosa, will join the squad in the afternoon, while Nicolás Otamendi and Ezequiel Garay are expected tomorrow morning.

The team members are expected to inspect the ground this afternoon.

This will be coach Alejandro Sabella's first official assignment for Argentina after taking over from Sergio Batista who was sacked after the two-time world champions were eliminated by eventual winners Uruguay in the Copa America on home soil recently.

The Vinotintos along with their experienced skipper Juan Arango arrived in three batches and they are put up in another hotel on EM Bypass. Another batch of 16 Venezuela players will arrive on Monday.

(Agencies)