Lionel Messi will lead Argentina to play Australia in a friendly match in Beijing on June 15, 2023. /CFP
Lionel Messi will lead world champions Argentina against Australia in a friendly in Beijing on June 15, the Argentine Embassy in China announced on Monday. With his first visit to China in six years, Messi will spark a mass scramble for tickets.
It will mark the seventh time the 35-year-old has visited China and comes at a time when his future at Paris Saint-Germain is the subject of intense speculation.
A source close to Messi told Reuters that 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 to" a deal.
Messi has received a fervent welcome on each of his previous visits to China, which has a huge football fan base. Since his first trip to the country in 2005, Messi has played for both Argentina or his former club Barcelona in friendlies. The La Liga side beat Beijing Guoan 3-0 in a friendly in 2010.
Lionel Messi (C) of Argentina dribbles in the FIFA World Cup Round of 16 game against Australia at Ahmad Bin Ali Stadium in Doha, Qatar, December 3, 2022. /CFP
News of the game 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," Football Australia CEO James Johnson said.
Australia last played in China in 2008 when they drew 0-0 with the hosts in a World Cup qualifier in southwest China's Yunnan Province.
(With input from Reuters)