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Monday, July 15, 2024  
08 Muharram 1446  

Messi mania reaches fever pitch ahead of Beijing friendly

Crowds have lined heavily guarded streets hoping to catch a glimpse of the 35-year-old
Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Messi mania gripped Beijing ahead of a sell-out friendly on Thursday evening between world champions Argentina and Australia in the Chinese capital.

All eyes were on Lionel Messi, arguably the greatest footballer of all time and who lifted the World Cup for Argentina in December.

Hundreds of Chinese fans waving Argentinian flags and wearing Messi jerseys have massed outside the team’s luxury hotel ever since their idol touched down on Saturday.

Crowds have lined heavily guarded streets hoping to catch a glimpse of the 35-year-old each time the team go for training.

The man himself has kept a low profile, but that has done little to dampen enthusiasm.

One daring fan recounted his tale of spending the night inside the Four Seasons hotel in a bid to get a close encounter with Messi and his teammates.

“I first hid in the janitor’s closet, then went up to the team’s floor through the fire escape staircase,” the man, surnamed Lin, told AFP.

He was questioned by hotel security before being released.

Another fan, Li Weihua, said that he had flown from his home city of Shenzhen in southern China, heading straight to the hotel.

He does not even have a ticket for the match at the 68,000-capacity Workers’ Stadium, which was quickly sold out.

“I just want to feel the environment,” said the 29-year-old, who had never been to Beijing before now.

Huang Yongming, 17, from the northeastern city of Changchun, was more successful in getting a highly coveted ticket.

“I spent around 3,000 yuan ($419) for a ticket,” Huang told AFP. “I know it’s expensive, but I thought that if I didn’t take the opportunity, I would regret it.”

A smattering of fans had already started to gather at the stadium, even with the 8:00 pm (1200 GMT) kickoff several hours away and the sun beating down.

Messi is set to join Inter Miami after two years at Paris Saint-Germain.

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Lionel Messi