Messi to lead Argentina in friendly against Australia in China

FILE PHOTO: Soccer Football - International Friendly - Argentina v Panama - Estadio Monumental, Buenos Aires, Argentina - March 23, 2023 Argentina's Lionel Messi and teammates celebrate with their families and World Cup trophies after the match REUTERS/Agustin Marcarian

BEIJING (Reuters) – Lionel Messi will lead world champions Argentina against Australia in a friendly in Beijing next month, with his first visit to China in six years set to spark a mass scramble for tickets.

The Argentina embassy in China said on Monday that Argentina would play Australia on June 15, bringing Messi to the country for the first time since 2017.

It will mark the seventh time the 35-year-old has visited China and comes at a time when his future at Paris St. Germain is the subject of intense speculation.

A source close to Messi has told Reuters he had received a formal offer to join Saudi Arabian club Al-Hilal next season, though his father said Messi had not “signed or agreed” a deal.

Messi has received a fervent welcome on each of his previous visits to China, which has a huge soccer fan base despite the struggles of the men’s national team, who have played at the World Cup only once.

Since his first China trip in 2005, Messi has played for Argentina or his former club Barcelona in friendlies. The LaLiga side beat Beijing Guoan 3-0 in a friendly in 2010.

News of the match against the Socceroos quickly went viral on Chinese social media, with many fans voicing eagerness to watch the game and see record seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi play.

“If I can get a ticket, I wouldn’t mind not having a girlfriend for a whole year,” one fan quipped on social media.

Australia and Argentina last met at the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in the round of 16, where Messi was among the scorers as his team won 2-1.

“To secure a match against the world champions Argentina reflects Australia’s standing within world football and the respect that the top nations have for both our senior national teams,” said Football Australia CEO James Johnson.

Australia last played in China in 2008 when they drew 0-0 with the hosts in a World Cup qualifier in southwestern Yunnan province.

(Reporting by Qiaoyi Li and Ryan Woo; writing by Manasi Pathak; Editing by Christopher Cushing, Peter Rutherford)

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