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Messi, Argentina set to pull a big crowd in Beijing exhibition game against Australia

SEOUL (AP) – Lionel Messi and his World Cup-winning Argentina teammates are expected to draw almost 70,000 fans to Beijing Worker’s Stadium for an exhibition against Australia.

With tickets starting at around USD80 for Thursday’s game, local supporters are excited to see Messi and continue the World Cup celebrations. Fans have flocked to all opportunities to see the Argentine star since the team arrived in China, with large crowds angling for photographs and chanting his name.

Messi’s move to “continue my path” in Miami last week made global headlines after he turned down extremely lucrative offers from Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia in favor of Major League Soccer.

He said that after winning the World Cup, it was his time to go the United States (US) and “live football in another way.”

Before then, he’s with the Argentina squad that is scheduled to play Australia in the Chinese capital and take on Indonesia in Jakarta four days later.

Australia coach Graham Arnold said he was looking forward to giving a selection of young players some valuable experience.

“There’s no better team to test yourself against than he best in the world,” Arnold said in an interview for Chinese TV. “It’s going to be great for the players — not only the players, but for everyone here in China and back in Australia — to see Lionel Messi play.”

“He’s such a wonderful player and obviously best in the world. To have those privileges to test yourself against him, it’s important.”

Lionel Messi gestures to Chinese fans on a bus as he and other members of the Argentina national soccer team return to their hotel from practising in Beijing on June 13. PHOTO: AP

Messi led Argentina to a 2-1 win over the Australians in the Round of 16 at the World Cup last year in Qatar.

For the Socceroos, though, this rematch is not about revenge for a defeat but more the journey to the next Asian Cup, at Qatar in January, and beyond.

“It’s a younger squad but I’m also looking with one eye on the World Cup in 2026 and getting players ready for that,” Arnold said. “I don’t believe there’s a better way to test them out.”

Australia, which joined the Asian Football Confederation in 2006 and won the regional title on home soil in 2015, will take on India, Syria and Uzbekistan at the Asian Cup.

Arnold has handed first call-ups to Italian-based defender Alessandro Circati and Melbourne City goalkeeper Thomas Glover, and has recalled Gianni Stensness and Denis Genreau.

In other international friendlies this week, Japan will play El Salvador and South Korea, led by former US head coach Jurgen Klinsmann, will take on Peru on Friday.

Klinsmann is sweating on the fitness of Tottenham star player Son Heung-min, who had a hernia operation after the end of the English Premier League season. According to Korea Football Association officials, Son wants to play but it has yet to be decided.

Oh Hyeon-gu, who helped Celtic to the Scottish championship, could make the step up in Son’s absence.

“I don’t know about playing time, but whether I am given one minute or 90 minutes, I will do my best,” Oh said. “I traveled to Qatar for the World Cup. I was so desperate to play and I know all the stadiums … I want to make those dream moments if I can go to the Asian Cup.”

Oh’s Celtic teammate Kyogo Furuhashi did not make Japan’s roster at the World Cup but the Scottish Premiership Player of the Year has been recalled by Japan coach Hajime Moriyasu.

“He has been contributing to the team’s victories with consistent performance and a strong presence on the field,” Moriyasu, who is looking to lead Japan to a fifth continental title, said of the striker. “We expect him to score goals and be involved in creating goal-scoring opportunities.”

As well as the Asian Cup, Qatar is preparing for a second successive guest appearance later this month at the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the tournament that determines the champion of the region that encapsulates North and Central America as well as the Caribbean.

It starts with a friendly against Jamaica in Austria on Thursday. At the World Cup, Qatar lost all three of its group games but appointed former Real Madrid and Portugal boss Carlos Queiroz in February.

The defending Asian champion, which also reached the semi-finals of the 2021 Gold Cup, will take on Haiti, Honduras and Mexico in the tournament hosted by the US.