Messi Scores Rapid Goal As Argentina Down Australia In Beijing Friendly

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Argentina defeated Australia 2-0 in Beijing on Thursday evening, with Lionel Messi scoring after less than a minute.

After 81 seconds of sloppy defending by the Socceroos, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner curled in from the edge of the area.

Messi nearly scored a quick second in front of over 50,000 adoring fans, but he smashed into the side netting from a close angle.

Australia weathered the early storm and came within a whisker of equalizing when forward Mitchell Duke caused Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez to push a close-range shot onto the post.

Messi and fellow Argentina veteran Angel di Maria both forced Australia goalkeeper Mat Ryan to save early in the second half.

And the world champions finally paid for their pressure in the 68th minute, when German Pezzella headed in a cross to make it 2-0.

Manchester City forward Julian Alvarez stretched Ryan once more as Argentina cruised to victory in the sweltering summer heat.

Messi is revered in football-crazed China, where the national team and floundering domestic league are constant sources of despair.

Midway through the second half, a young-looking fan wearing an Argentina shirt invaded the pitch and briefly embraced Messi before being hauled away by security guards.

Thousands greeted the Argentina captain’s every touch with roars of anticipation that built to a crescendo when he put his team into their quick-fire lead.

They had braved afternoon temperatures of nearly 40 degrees Celsius to gather at Beijing’s newly renovated Workers’ Stadium a full three hours before the 8 pm (1200 GMT) kick-off.

Many had donned replica shirts bearing Messi’s name, while others wore blue-and-white face paint and waved miniature Argentina flags.

“Today the stadium looked like we were playing in Argentina,” said Argentina coach Lionel Scaloni of the partisan crowd.

He toasted the win in a “difficult game” for his team, adding: “We continued to compete, which is the best thing this team has in its DNA.”

Messi did not stop to speak to journalists gathered in the stadium shortly after he left the team dressing room.

The global superstar has kept a low profile in the Chinese capital, save for some commercial engagements in which he confirmed the 2022 World Cup was probably his last.

But the local excitement around the Argentine legend ratcheted up in recent days as the sell-out match drew nearer.

Messi mania 

Hundreds of fans massed outside the team’s luxury hotel and lined heavily guarded streets in the hope of catching a glimpse of their hero.

Messi made waves last week when he revealed he would join MLS side Inter Miami after the end of his two-year deal with Paris Saint-Germain.

Thursday’s match was a re-run of the last-16 clash between Argentina and Australia at last winter’s World Cup in Qatar.

On that occasion, Messi scored a goal and tormented the Socceroos’ defence as the Albiceleste won 2-1.

Argentina went on to win the World Cup for the first time in 36 years.

The South Americans will round off their Asian tour on Monday when they play another friendly against Indonesia in Jakarta.

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