Asunción: Lili Cantero, a 29-year-old Paraguayan artist famed for painting intricate and personal soccer boots for stars including Lionel Messi and Ronaldinho, is preparing a new colourful show of her work to take to the World Cup in Qatar.
The Asuncion-born artist is painting some two dozen sets of boots, balls and canvases, many inspired by the Middle Eastern nation and its capital Doha, which will host national teams from around the world next month to compete for the World Cup crown.
Cantero made a name for herself painting soccer boots, including a pair she sent to Argentine star Lionel Messi when he was playing at Barcelona, lovingly detailed with a gallery of black and white images of the striker and his family.
She hadn't known if he would even receive them, but to her surprise she received a photo of Messi, one of the world's best soccer players, holding the boots. That marked a turning point for Cantero at a time she had almost decided to stop painting.
"Messi's boots marked a before and after," said Cantero, who wants to create her own sportswear brand and bring Paraguayan art to major global events. "It was a nice moment because thanks to that many doors were opened and my career really started." Her colorful designs drew attention from other players. She met two years ago in Asuncion former Brazil striker Ronaldinho Gaucho, to whom she gave boots and a ball portraying a kiss his mother had given him after winning the Ballon d'Or in 2005.
In Qatar, Cantero plans to exhibit eight balls with designs that pay tribute to the countries that have lifted the trophy throughout history: Brazil, Germany, Italy, Argentina, Uruguay, France, England and Spain.
The boots will be presented within 3D structures that reproduce the eight stadiums that Qatar built for the World Cup in Doha, Lusail, Rayyan, Al Khor and Al Wakrah. The remaining series will combine elements of Qatari and Paraguayan cultures.
"I have been working on this for three years and it is a great pride for me to represent my country at this World Cup," Cantero said.
"In Latin America, football is lived with a great passion and that influenced me a lot. Since I was a girl, I have been living football... it is something that I always liked as well as art and so I found a way to connect the two things".