A tropical night in Beijing, with temperatures hovering around 30 degrees Celsius, couldn’t stop Chinese soccer fans from loving Messi.

More than 50,000 people attended the friendly between World Cup defending champion Argentina and “Socceroos” Australia, which kicked off at 8 p.m. local time on Sept. 15 at Beijing’s renovated Gongren (工人-worker) Stadium, China’s official Xinhua news agency reported.

Chinese soccer fans, who were envious of the roaring crowds without masks at last year’s World Cup in Qatar, where China’s strict quarantine policy was in place, enjoyed the first A-match on home soil in a long time. It seems safe to say that an “eighth” of the excitement was due to the greatest soccer star of all time, Lionel Messi.

Live footage from China’s state-run Central Television (CCTV) sports channel showed that the majority of the crowd was mask-free, with many fans wearing Argentina’s national team jerseys emblazoned with Messi’s number 10.

Messi scored the game’s first goal just 1:19 into the match, and his trademark dazzling dribbling was on full display as he led Argentina to a 2-0 victory.

During the match, a young male soccer fan wearing a Messi jersey jumped from the stands several meters above the pitch, ran onto the field, hugged Messi near the corner, and went on a “mad dash” to outrun several security officers. 안전놀이터

The fan was eventually “escorted” off the field by five or six security officers.

Messi, who left Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) to play for Inter Miami in the American professional soccer league, stopped by Beijing for the A-match before heading to the United States.

It was his seventh visit to China, and the first in six years since his last in 2017, and Chinese fans camped out in “Messi jerseys” at the airport and in front of his hotel when he arrived on Tuesday. Some even tried to extort money on social media by posting “false advertisements” offering to take photos with Messi and get his jersey signed.

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