Lionel Messi arrived in Beijing on Saturday for Argentina’s friendly match against Australia ahead of joining Major League Soccer side Inter Miami as a free agent.
Messi’s arrival was announced in a post on the organising International Football Invitation’s official Weibo social media site with a video of players stepping off a plane, ahead of Thursday’s match in the Chinese capital’s recently rebuilt Workers’ Stadium.
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Messi, who lifted the World Cup in Qatar in December and is widely considered to be one of the game’s all-time greats, confirmed this week he will leave French champions Paris Saint-Germain for the U.S. league.
This is the Argentina captain’s seventh visit to China and his first since 2017.
He has received a fervent welcome on each of his previous visits to China, which has a huge football fan base despite the struggles of the men’s national team, who have played at the World Cup only once.
Messi’s arrival was a top-trending topic on Chinese social media on Saturday.
In Beijing, hundreds of fans wearing replica shirts queued up for hours at the airport and the hotel where Messi was due to stay, with many providing livestreams on social media and some chanting his name as they hoped to catch a glimpse of him. Some contrasted his popularity with the dim view many have of the men’s national team.
Australia and Argentina last met at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in the round of 16, where Messi was among the scorers as his team won 2-1.