May 30, 2024

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Lionel Messi: Young Chinese soccer fan gives security the slip to hug his hero Messi mid-game


It was the sort of astonishing run the world has come to expect from those who don Argentina’s iconic number 10 soccer jersey.

From the corner of the pitch, the fleet-footed figure evades one challenger and leaves two others trailing hopelessly in his wake as he sprints the length of half the pitch and high-fives his side’s goalkeeper, all to the adoring cheers of the crowd.

But this stunning display of athleticism on show during Argentina’s friendly match with Australia in Beijing on Thursday was not by Lionel Messi – though the man widely thought of as the world’s best player did his own fair share of crowd-pleasing by scoring his fastest ever goal, in just 79 seconds.

It was by a young Chinese pitch invader, eager to meet his hero, the seven-time winner of the Ballon d’Or.

Videos that have gone viral on Chinese social media show the young fan leaping from the stands before sprinting toward the Argentine striker – who like him was wearing the number 10 jersey – and giving him a hug. The clips show Messi, who appears initially shocked, stretching out his arms and hugging the fan back.

A Chinese fan runs onto the pitch to hug soccer superstar Lionel Messi during a friendly match between Argentina and Australia at the Worker's Stadium in Beijing on June 15.

With the crowd cheering three security guards then give chase, the first of them falling over as the young fan evades his grasp. The fan then raises his hands as he outsprints the other two guards and high-fives Argentina’s goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez. It is only after the fan eventually trips up himself that security finally catch up to him and take him back to the stands, where he is greeted like a hero.

For many onlookers, the brief interlude was one of the most entertaining moments of an event that has drawn widespread interest across China since the 35-year-old Messi arrived in Beijing on Saturday.

On Chinese social media, many users – football fans or otherwise – celebrated the young fan’s sprint across the grass pitch as a liberating moment.

For some, his daring dash through security lines has become a symbol of freedom and youthful vitality in a society still reeling from the trauma of three years of Covid restrictions and feeling the squeeze of a slowing economy.

“This kind of running is exactly what is lacking in the increasingly desolate souls of the Chinese people,” says the headline of a widely circulated commentary on WeChat, which was later censored.

But even before the fan’s antics, interest in the event had been sky high.

Tickets to the match at the 68,000-capacity Workers’ Stadium, which cost up to $4,800 yuan ($670), sold out within 20 minutes, according to Chinese state media Global Times, while touts advertised tickets online for multiple times their face value.

Messi and his teammates were temporarily “trapped” in their Beijing hotel at the weekend after large numbers of fans gathered outside, Chinese state media reported.

So great has been the interest that local police cautioned members of the public to be on guard for scammers trying to sell fake tickets or bogus chances to meet the superstar.

Several unofficial social media accounts have claimed to be offering VIP stadium passes, front-row seats and autographed jerseys, often at widely inflated prices, while a viral – and bogus – ad claimed to be offering dinner opportunities with Messi at 300,000 yuan ($42,000) per person.

Beijing’s public security bureau debunked the advert on its official Weibo account, joking, “If you can be scammed of 300,000 yuan, then our police will raise a glass to you.”

The young pitch invader is carried off the pitch by security officials during a match at the Workers' Stadium in Beijing, China on June 15.

On the pitch, Argentina eventually triumphed 2-0, though it maybe for other reasons that the game will be most remembered.

In a series of clips posted online after the game the fan apologized to his hero for his “bad behaviour.”

“Messi, I’m sorry… I’m really sorry to meet you this way. I really wanted your autograph, but they were chasing me, so I didn’t ask for it,” he said.

But he was less apologetic to the security guards he left flailing in his wake.

“I also hope to use my negative case to tell the security personnel that your security work is not competent and gave me such an opportunity,” he said, urging the authorities to step up their game before the Chinese capital hosts its next international sports event.

Beijing Police said later that an 18-year-old fan, identified only as “Di” had been put under “administrative detention”, but did not say for how long.

The fan has also been banned from entering sports venues as a spectator for similar games for 12 months. Police said he had offered an apology and accepted his punishment.

Weighing into the debate, a Chinese state media outlet said in an editorial that while the fan’s passion was understandable, it did not endorse his behavior, adding that it would disrupt matches and endanger safety.

Argentina will next travel to Jakarta for a friendly against Indonesia on June 19.