(Beijing) Supporters braving the heat, overexcited fans, a hiding place on a staircase: the Messi madness took hold of a Beijing in turmoil on Thursday around a friendly match won by world champion Argentina against Australia.

Fans and Chinese media only had eyes for Lionel Messi, one of the greatest footballers in history, winner last December in Qatar of the World Cup, the only trophy still missing from his immense record .

On Thursday afternoon, thousands of fans braved temperatures approaching 40°C, arriving at the Workers’ Stadium three hours before the 8 p.m. kick-off in the newly renovated venue, where Messi was quick to shine, opening the scoring after 79 seconds of play, the fastest goal of his career, both at home and at club level. A second goal scored by German Pezzella sealed the victory of the world champions (2-0).

Many had come dressed in Argentina shirts flocked with Messi’s name and number 10. Others had smeared sky blue and white paint on their faces, or were enthusiastically waving Argentinian flags.

Given the enthusiasm of the crowd, an important security device had to be put in place so that the bus transporting the Albiceleste players could access the stadium without incident.

“Messi is the greatest player of all time,” said Zhong Xiaoqing, a 40-year-old lawyer who came from eastern China’s Zhejiang province, more than 1,000 kilometers from Beijing.

“I was totally hooked the first time I saw him play in 2005,” he told AFP. “He’s a role model for me. »

Beside him, 29-year-old Sun Bingxin, who works in human resources, cannot hold back his joy.

“I kept this excitement inside me so much that now I want to cry with joy,” she told AFP before kick-off. “Any football fan in China would have liked to be here tonight (Thursday). »

Same impression from the side of Liu Rui, a 24-year-old student, for whom attending the match is “like a dream come true”. “In 40 years, I will be able to tell this to my grandchildren,” he told AFP.

Since the arrival in the Chinese capital of the seven-time Ballon d’Or on Saturday, hundreds of supporters waving Argentine flags and dressed in the star’s jerseys have gathered in front of the five-star hotel where the Argentine team is staying.

Along the street leading to the facility, security was tightened to contain the huge crowds that tried to catch a glimpse of the 35-year-old as he left for training.

A supporter recounts having discreetly entered the interior of the Four Seasons hotel in an attempt to see Lionel Messi and his teammates.

“I first hid in the janitor’s closet, then I went up to the team floor by the fire escape,” the man told AFP, who gives only his last name. , Linen.

Spotted and questioned by hotel security, he was later released.

Another supporter, Li Weihua, says he flew in from the southern Chinese metropolis of Shenzhen and went directly to the hotel to join the supporters in attendance.

He traveled 2,000 kilometers to get to Beijing without even having a ticket for the match, as these sold out very quickly.

“I just wanted to feel the atmosphere,” says the 29-year-old.

17-year-old Huang Yongming, from the big city of Changchun (northeast), managed to get one of the tickets for the match, which was sold out.

“I spent about 3,000 yuan for a ticket,” he told AFP. “It’s expensive, I know. But I told myself that if I didn’t take this opportunity, I would have regrets. »

Lionel Messi will soon join Inter Miami, in the United States, after spending two seasons at Paris Saint-Germain.