the story of the young Chinese who ran to embrace the Argentine

(CNN) — It was the kind of extraordinary race the world expects from the wearer of Argentina’s 10.

From the corner of the pitch, the speedy figure dodges one opponent and leaves two others behind as he charges through the center of the pitch and high-fives his team’s goalkeeper, all to the cheers of the crowd.

But this astonishing display of athleticism during Argentina’s friendly against Australia in Beijing on Thursday was not the work of Lionel Messi, even though the best player in the world did his part by scoring the fastest goal in his history, in just 79 seconds.

He was a young Chinese invader, eager to meet his hero, who this Friday ended up being arrested for his actions.

Videos that went viral on Chinese social media show the young fan jumping from the stands before running towards the Argentine striker – who, like him, was wearing the number 10 shirt – and hugging him. In the videos we see Messi, who at first seems surprised, spreading his arms and returning the hug to the fan.

A Chinese fan runs onto the pitch to hug soccer superstar Lionel Messi during a friendly match between Argentina and Australia at Workers’ Stadium in Beijing June 15. (Credit: Ng Han Guan/AP)

The audience cheers for the three security guards, but the first of them falls to the ground and the young fan escapes his clutches. The fan then raised his hands, passed the other two guards and high-fived Argentine goalkeeper Emiliano Martínez. Only when the fan trips over himself do the guards reach him and take him back to the stands, where he is welcomed as a hero.

For many viewers, the brief interlude was one of the funniest moments of an event that has attracted great interest across China since the 35-year-old Messi arrived in Beijing on Saturday.

On Chinese social media, many users, football fans and non-footballers, celebrated the young fan’s sprint on the pitch as a liberating moment.

For some, her bold career has become a symbol of freedom and youthful vitality in a society still reeling from the trauma of three years of Covid-related restrictions and feeling the pinch of a slowing economy.

“This kind of rush is exactly what the increasingly desolate souls of the Chinese people lack,” reads the headline of a widely circulated comment on WeChat, which was later censored.

Security officers carry the young invader off the pitch during a match at the Workers' Stadium in Beijing, China June 15.  (Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters)

Security officers carry the young invader off the pitch during a match at the Workers’ Stadium in Beijing, China June 15. (Credit: Thomas Peter/Reuters)

But even before the antics of the fans, interest in the event had skyrocketed.

Tickets for the match at the 68,000-seat Workers’ Stadium priced at up to 4,800 yuan ($670) sold out in 20 minutes, according to Chinese state media Global Times, as vendors advertised the tickets on the Internet several times their face value.

Messi and his teammates were temporarily “stranded” in their Beijing hotel over the weekend after large numbers of fans gathered outside, Chinese state media reported.

The interest has been so great that local police have warned citizens to beware of scammers trying to sell fake tickets or bogus opportunities to meet the superstar.

Various unofficial social media accounts claimed to offer VIP stadium passes, ringside seats and autographed shirts, often at grossly inflated prices, while one viral – and fake – advertisement claimed to offer the chance to dine with Messi at 300,000 yuan ($42,000) per person.

On the field, Argentina ended up prevailing 2-0, although perhaps for other reasons for which the match will be better remembered.

In a series of clips posted online after the match, the fan, who claimed to be under 18, apologized to his hero for his “bad behaviour”.

“Messi, I’m sorry… I’m very sorry to meet you like this. I really wanted your autograph, but they were stalking me, so I didn’t ask,” she said.

But he was less apologetic to the security guards than he left.

“I also hope to use my negative case to tell security personnel that their security work is not competent and gave me such an opportunity,” he said, urging authorities to step up their action before the Chinese capital hosts his next international sporting event. .

This Friday, police said he was in “administrative detention”.

The fan, identified by the police as Di, was also banned from entering sports facilities as a spectator of similar matches for 12 months. Beijing police did not specify how long “Di” will be detained, but said the fan apologized for his behavior and accepted his punishment.

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