Tens of thousands of football enthusiasts swarmed the streets of Hong Kong, eagerly awaiting a glimpse of Lionel Messi as he trained with his Inter Miami teammates ahead of a highly anticipated match against Hong Kong Select XI on Sunday.
Police had to close off roads surrounding the Hong Kong Stadium to manage the crowds as fans clamoured to catch sight of the Argentine superstar, widely regarded as the greatest player of his generation.
Hours before the training session commenced, devoted supporters formed lengthy queues outside the 40,000-seat venue, chanting Messi’s name in unison. The excitement reached its heights as Inter Miami, co-owned by football icon David Beckham, took to the pitch, greeted by thunderous cheers from the nearly packed stadium.
The decibel levels soared even higher when the 36-year-old Messi emerged onto the field, drawing an electrifying ovation from the spectators. Despite nursing a hamstring injury, the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner participated in a gentle workout, engaging in stretches and later joining a group of fortunate Hong Kong schoolchildren for a kickabout during a coaching clinic.
Beckham himself took charge of imparting skills to the young participants, but it was Messi who remained the focal point of the event. For many fans, especially those who had travelled from afar, witnessing Messi in person was a dream come true.
The sea of spectators donned either blue-and-white-striped Argentina jerseys or pink Inter Miami shirts, showcasing their unwavering support for their beloved football icon and his club.
Tickets for Sunday’s match sold out in an hour when they went on sale in December, and sports retailers reported that Messi shirts had been flying off the shelves.
Messi has been nursing a tight hamstring on the team’s hectic tour, which will have seen them play six games in 19 days ahead of the MLS season starting on February 21.
He came on only for the last few minutes of a 6-0 friendly defeat to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia on Thursday night.