Lionel Messi was welcomed as a hero in Beijing

Footballer Lionel Messi, who is very popular in China, arrived in Beijing on Saturday by private jet for a friendly match, where the 2022 World Cup winner with Argentina was greeted by jubilant fans.

“Messi! Messi!”, chanted several hundred fans waiting for him at the airport, wearing the blue and white striped N.10 Albiceleste jersey, according to viral photos posted on social media.

Several hundred more are waiting outside his hotel in the east of the Chinese capital, not far from the banks of the Liangma River, which is popular with Beijingers for picnics.

Numerous signs in English and Spanish welcoming the Ballon d’Or seven times.

The fans, who were initially rather quiet and reserved, suddenly start shouting the name of their idol in the chorus as a bus that may be Lionel Messi approaches.

A wave of selfie sticks and cell phones waved, as a crowd stormed the lobby of the world champion’s hotel hoping to catch a glimpse of him. without result.

“I waited from nine in the morning until noon,” Liu Yuheng told AFP, wearing the Barcelona shirt where Messi spent most of his career.

“I thought he would come through the front door but not the back door. I was so disappointed not to see him,” the 26-year-old laments.

“Since I could not buy a ticket for the match, I booked a room in the same hotel as Messi and was hoping to see him,” he explains.

See Messi!»

World champions Argentina, led by their captain Messi, will play a friendly match against Australia on June 15 in Beijing, at the Beijing Workers’ Stadium, which has just been renovated and has a capacity of 68,000 spectators.

The meeting will mark a major return to international football in China, after three years of health restrictions that emptied stadiums and led to the cancellation of a series of sports competitions.

The shock will be the rematch of the round of 16 of the World Cup, which was organized in Qatar at the end of 2022, where Argentina won 2-1 against Socceroos.

The world champion’s arrival in China was the most discussed topic on the Weibo social network in the middle of the day.

“I definitely want to see Messi!” wrote a surfer, in tune with the other comments.

“I still feel the emotions of the match that dedicated Argentina to the World Cup,” stressed another, referring to Albiceleste’s victory after a legendary final against France in December (3-3, 4 tab to 2).

In a video widely commented on online, Messi is seen at the entrance to Beijing airport, which was blocked off by two police officers. Unheard exchanges happen with people who appear to be close to him. Netizens assume they are charlatans in their idol’s passport.

This trip to China is Lionel Messi’s seventh, and the last dates back to 2017, according to local media.

The 35-year-old, who has opted to leave PSG to continue his career in the United States at Inter Miami, will play another friendly against Indonesia in Jakarta on June 19, as part of this Asian tour.

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