The craze for Argentine star Lionel Messi reached its peak in the Chinese capital, Beijing, ahead of the world champions’ friendly match with Australia on Thursday.
All eyes are on Messi, 35, who is considered by many to be the greatest soccer player of all time, after he led the Argentine national team to crown the Qatar World Cup 2022.
Hundreds of Chinese fans waving Argentine flags and wearing Messi shirts have gathered outside the national team hotel since the delegation arrived on Saturday.
Crowds lined the heavily guarded streets, hoping to catch a glimpse of the player every time he and his team mates went to training.
Messi kept a low profile, but that did not dampen the crowd’s enthusiasm.
– Aimar (@michiedastyles) June 14, 2023
And one of the fans told a story fit for a Hollywood movie, as he said that he spent a night inside the “Four Seasons” hotel in an attempt to meet Messi and his colleagues closely.
“I first hid in the janitor’s closet, then climbed to the floor where the national team is located, through the fire escape stairs,” the man, nicknamed “Lin”, told AFP.
But the hotel security arrested him and interrogated him before releasing him.
– CGTN (@CGTNOfficial) June 14, 2023
Another fan, Li Weihua, said he “flew in from Shenzhen, his hometown in southern China, and went straight to the hotel.”
He explained that he did not even have a ticket for the friendly match in the “Workers” stadium, which can accommodate 68,000 spectators, and whose tickets were sold out at a tremendous speed.
“I just want to feel the atmosphere,” revealed the 29-year-old, who has never been to Beijing before.
— Cule Colors (@CuleColors) June 14, 2023
A small number of fans had begun to gather in the stadium since the early morning, although the match kicks off at 12:00 GMT (15 Mecca time).
Messi announced that he would move to American Inter Miami after two seasons in Paris Saint-Germain.
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