Updated Jun 15, 2023, 2:11pm EDT
East Asia

Chinese fan runs onto the field to hug Messi during controversial Beijing match

China pitch invader
REUTERS/Thomas Peter

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The Scene

During the highly-anticipated Australia v. Argentina friendly match in Beijing on Thursday, an enthusiastic Chinese fan stormed the field in an attempt to hug soccer legend Lionel Messi.

Video from the game shows the unidentified fan rush up and embrace Messi, while being chased all over the field by security. The crowd in the stadium can be heard shouting Chinese phrases that sort of translate to “Awesome!” and “Badass!”

A pitch invader is chased by security officials during the match.
REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The invader managed to high-five one of the goalies before finally being apprehended by security, but did not lose his gleeful smile even as he was being carried out.

A pitch invader is taken off the pitch by security officials during the match
REUTERS/Thomas Peter

In an interview with Messi’s fan club, he apologized for his behavior, while criticizing the security measures.

“Of course, 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. “There will be many international competitions in Beijing in the future. I hope you will improve your security capabilities.”

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The View From China

Chinese state media widely covered ”Messi mania,” with the Global Times tabloid reporting that fans from across the country had flocked to Beijing just to get a glimpse of the soccer star.

The tabloid also reported that hotel prices near the stadium have soared to over $1,000 USD per night, and scams claiming to give fans an opportunity to meet Messi have proliferated in recent days.

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The View From Argentina

In Argentina, many see the match as an economic incentive to boost business ties with China. Combined with another upcoming friendly match against Indonesia’s national team in Jakarta, the Argentina Football Association will ultimately pocket $6 million USD for the matches, La Nacion newspaper reports.

But the association is also hoping to finalize a deal to open two Football Technological Institutes in China’s Guangxi and Jiangsu provinces, the paper reports, which will employ the same coaching methods used in Buenos Aires.

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The View From Australia

The Australian government helped organize the Beijing match, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese government seeing it as an opportunity to attract high-profile players for Australian teams and bolster relations between Canberra and Beijing.

However, activists have criticized the decision, saying the match in China ignored the country’s human rights abuses against minorities. The federal opposition also warned that China could exploit the match for propaganda.