Messi mania reaches fever pitch ahead of Beijing friendly

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Lionel Messi got hugged by a fan who ran onto the field wearing a No. 10 Argentina shirt Thursday during a 2-0 friendly win over Australia in which the World Cup champion scored the fastest goal of his career.

Messi was standing near the corner flag in the second half when the fan ran onto the field and embraced him. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner appeared to be surprised as the fan approached, but then put his arm around the interloper’s back before security guards quickly moved in.

The fan bolted across the field and high-fived Argentina goalkeeper Emiliano Martinez on the other end before doubling back across the grass and tripping. The invader was eventually carried off the field.

Moments later, Messi helped set up the second goal for German Pezzella in the 68th minute at the Worker’s Stadium in Beijing.

Earlier, Messi had scored with almost his first touch, only a week after deciding to leave Paris Saint-Germain for Inter Miami.

Emerging to massive cheers from the Chinese fans, many of them wearing the famous blue-and-white national team shirts, Messi scored after 1 minute, 19 seconds in Argentina’s third game since beating France in the World Cup final in December.

Australia midfielder Mathew Leckie slipped inside his own half, allowing Enzo Fernandez to feed Messi, who stepped around Aiden O’Neill on the edge of the area and curled the ball past the diving Mat Ryan.

Messi came close again minutes later but Australia soon worked themselves into the match, much like they did in the 2-1 loss to Argentina at the World Cup in Qatar. Mitch Duke’s shot was pushed onto the post by Martinez.

Messi then had another chance before halftime, but the 35-year-old forward shot over with only the goalkeeper to beat.

In the second half, Messi again went close, this time from a free kick in the 65th minute. He was then involved in his team’s second goal, passing the ball near the corner flag to Rodrigo De Paul, who crossed for Pezzella to head home.

A short time later, Messi found Julian Alvarez in the area, but his low shot was pushed past the post by the diving Ryan.

Argentina will next travel to Jakarta to face Indonesia on Monday, while Australia will face England in October as they prepare for the Asian Cup in Qatar in January.

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