Football superstar Lionel Messi arrived in Beijing by private jet on Saturday and was greeted by hundreds of jubilant fans, with his World Cup winning Argentina set to face Australia in a friendly match next week.
“Messi! Messi!” chanted several hundred fans who were waiting for him at the airport, many wearing the blue-and-white striped jersey of the Albiceleste’s No.10, according to social media images.
Several hundred others waited outside his hotel, not far from the banks of the Liangma River, popular with Beijingers for strolls.
This is Messi’s seventh trip to China, the last being in 2017, according to local media.
World champions Argentina will play a friendly against Australia on June 15 at Beijing’s newly-renovated 68,000-capacity Workers’ Stadium.
By mid-day, the arrival of global sporting superstar Messi was the most talked-about topic on the Weibo social network.
“I absolutely want to see Messi!” wrote one user, echoing others’ comments.
“I am still feeling the emotions of the match of when Argentina secured the World Cup,” said another, referring to the Albiceleste’s victory after an epic final against France in December.
The friendly will mark the return of international football to China, after three years of strict Covid-19 restrictions that emptied stadiums and led to a cascade of cancellations of sporting competitions.
The clash will be a rematch of the Round of 16 at the World Cup, where Argentina won 2-1 against the Socceroos.
Messi, who has chosen to leave Paris Saint-Germain over the summer to pursue his career with Inter Miami, will also play another friendly match, when Argentina take on Indonesia in Jakarta on June 19, as part of this tour.