When Argentina won possession of the ball in Australia’s half in the second minute, Enzo Fernandez found Messi, who avoided two players before beating the keeper with a curling shot from outside the box, giving the crowd their money’s worth right away.
“We always enjoy being with the national team,” Messi remarked. “It was complicated to play because of the heat and humidity, but beyond everything we continued with the same idea.”
The attention has been on Messi ever since he arrived in Beijing last week.
In China, where soccer is popular and fans frequently seek outside of their country for teams to support due to the men’s national team’s deplorable condition, the Argentina captain has hordes of followers.
In recent days, there has been a noticeable increase in the number of people sporting imitation Argentina shirts in the regions surrounding the stadium and the hotel where Messi and his crew have been staying.
Every day, dozens of people lined up in front of the hotel in the hope of seeing Messi go for training.
As the teams entered the field, they were met by a sea of blue and white, with the vast majority of the 68,000-person crowd wearing Argentina’s colors.
“I can’t see any yellow shirts anywhere,” Australia coach Graham Arnold said before the match.
“I just really hope Lionel Messi gets a little percentage of the shirt sales because I’ve never seen so many Argentine number 10 shirts in my life!”
A Messi-supporter went onto the field just before the corner kick for the goal, gave the confused Argentine a quick hug, avoided several flailing security guards, ran to the center circle, and gave goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez a high-five.
He proceeded to outwit and outrun stewards while being encouraged by the enthusiastic crowd until sprinting back to Australia’s box, where he was eventually caught and taken away.