A rationale for why Inter Miami has created the largest impression in MLS history from 7,771 miles away resounded around Beijing’s freshly remodelled Workers’ Stadium five minutes before the conclusion of the first half of Argentina’s 2-0 victory against Australia on Thursday night. It was a chorus that paid homage to a single individual in English rather than their own language. Messi, let’s go forward.
Given the sea of white that was visible whenever the camera panned wide enough to show the stands overlooking the action, it appeared as though every one of the 68,000 spectators for the reigning world champion’s match against the Socceroos had been able to source one of the highly sought-after tickets.
Even the sparse pockets of Australian support were not immune to the “Messimania” that was engulfing the Chinese capital, as evidenced by footage of a young fan wearing an Australian flag around his waist that was carefully placed so as not to cover up the Messi jersey that he was wearing. And even when the camera zoomed in and it became clear that maybe that wasn’t quite the case. And thankfully for those there, they didn’t have to wait long for the main event. He scored the 103rd and quickest international goal of his career only 80 seconds into the game by curling a magnificent effort past Mat Ryan and into the back of the Australian goal.
Two minutes later, he sprung Alexis Mac Allister in behind the defenders for what ought to have been the second goal, and a few minutes after that, after being set up by Angel Di Maria, he sent a shot into the side netting.
After a sluggish start, Australia wasn’t particularly ashamed. They came back, and their ability to recover the ball with their press and instantly advance in transition began to raise some concerns about their adversary’s defence. When Jordy Bos found Mitch Duke at the top of the six-yard box in the 28th minute, they likely should have equalised. However, Duke’s errant shot was deflected onto the post and then scooped up by Emiliano Martinez.
Bos in particular stood out against the (admittedly in-end-of-season mode) world champions, adding to the buzz surrounding his future barely a month after breaking the record for the most expensive outbound move in Australian history.
Duke’s attempt, however, was the only one his side would make that would have raised Martinez’s heart rate despite their best efforts. Argentina seemed to have the ability to inspire or display class whenever it was required to keep the situation from spiralling out of control. And Messi, their great player, was at the core of a lot of it. He forced replacement Denis Genreau to tackle him, at which point he drove in a free kick that rebounded off Kye Rowles. After a short pitch invasion-enforced break, he and Rodrigo De Paul combined on a sequence of one-twos that led to a ball being whipped into German Pezzella’s head to make it 2-0.
Rowles attempted to drag Messi to the ground in the 78th minute like he was trying out for a spot in Queensland’s NRL State of Origin team, but Messi scampered away. The ball was immediately transported away from them and was grabbed by Messi, who had miraculously danced past them, when Keanu Baccus and Genreau put a foot in the box.
Those there would have undoubtedly been pleased with everything and would have returned home. weeks of hype were warranted. A 15-minute promotional appearance on Taobao, an Alibaba-backed e-commerce platform, at three in the afternoon attracted almost three million views. The Argentine superstar was the top trending topic on the Chinese social media platform Weibo, home to over half a billion users, before the game.
Local authorities claim that Messi and his teammates were prevented from leaving their hotel after “outrageously passionate” supporters gathered outside their accommodations in sufficient numbers to prevent them from holding a training session before the friendly. Additionally, according to local media, tickets for Thursday night’s game were going for up to 4,800 yuan ($USD 680, $AUD 980), much as how Messi’s move to Inter Miami has caused ticket prices for upcoming games to rise by as much as 1000%.
In his pregame press conference, coach Lionel Scaloni allayed fears that star forward Lionel Messi would only play a half by promising local media that “he will play the full match in principle.” Messi subsequently lived up to his promise, which is something that one has to believe wouldn’t have been the case if there hadn’t been a commercial arrangement for the superstar to play the full 90 minutes, especially against a team as physical as the Socceroos. He will go on vacation before reporting to Miami, thus he won’t play in La Albiceleste’s match against Indonesia the following week. His country may now be looking forward to the FIFA World Cup in 2026 without its master.
The actual game on Thursday was staged by a promoter, China Rainbow International Investment Company, which has typically focused on engineering and petrochemical projects. The Socceroos, who were one last-second Martinez stop on Garang Kuol away from forcing them into extra time at the 2022 FIFA World Cup, were suggested by the Argentines themselves. Once they had secured Messi and Argentina’s participation, they didn’t care much about who they played in Beijing.
This is what Inter Miami (as well as the MLS, Apple, Adidas, and who knows who else) is paying for by bringing perhaps the best player to South Florida. Not only a master who can do feats on the football field that shouldn’t be conceivable for anybody, much less someone who is 35 years old and apparently nearing the end of their career, but a person who commands attention whenever he enters the arena or appears on TV.
Brand Messi has always been a thing, of course, but with his departure from Europe, this identity is entering a new, dominant stage, much like that of his longtime adversary Cristiano Ronaldo in Saudi Arabia. Playing in the best leagues in Europe and striving for another Champions League or Ballon d’Or are no longer in the forefront. That fig leaf has been taken off.
There was a wonderful illustration of why there may never have been a better sportsperson with a brand like Messi to exploit with his trip to China, which may have been his last journey into Asia as a professional player. Why obtaining his talents will help Inter Miami and the MLS build their brands not only domestically but also internationally. A significant portion of the literally billions of people who are always online, viewing, and looking for new information throughout the globe, in countries like the sizable and expanding markets of China and Indonesia, still find it in the most recent expansion at DRV PNK Stadium.