From the sea of fans at the airport when they landed, to the deafening cheers at the packed Workers' Stadium on Thursday, megastar Lionel Messi and the World Cup-winning Argentina soccer squad were given the warmest of welcomes in Beijing.
Messi thrilled the more than 50,000 spectators at Workers' Stadium on Thursday night by scoring the first goal only 81 seconds after the match kicked off. German Pezzella scored Argentina's second goal, at 68 minutes, to secure the team's 2-0 victory in the friendly match against Australia.
"I can't even remember how many times I have come to China," Messi told the weekly newspaper Titan Sports through an interpreter. "Chinese fans' love for me remains the same, and the fans are very kind to me. I'm so happy to be here."
Thursday's game was the first time the Argentine squad have played a match in a foreign country since winning the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year. Messi and his teammates were thrilled to play in front of Chinese fans.
Argentina defender Nicolas Tagliafico wrote on Chinese social media: "Thanks to all our fans for your warmest welcome. Love you all, my Chinese football fans. In love with Beijing."
Since Saturday, when Messi and his teammates arrived in Beijing, Chinese fans had showed great enthusiasm. Fans took every possible opportunity to see the team, with large crowds angling for photographs and chanting Messi's name outside the team's hotel and on the sidewalk, where fans could see the team's bus.
Thursday's match attracted massive media attention and generated trending topics on social media platforms. For example, hashtag "Messi scored in 81st second" became the top trending topic on Sina Weibo, resulting in more than 40 million views by Thursday night.
"It's a dream come true for many fans that Argentina's national team could come to China," Sabino Vaca Narvaja, Argentina's ambassador to China, told China Central Television.
"Our team has been accompanied by many people outside hotels, on the streets and nearly everywhere. I'm astonished by the passion.
"Sports is the best ambassador of our country, especially soccer," he added. "The arrival of our national soccer team is just a start. We are going to have more cooperation in the future."
This is the eighth time that Messi has come to China,. His popularity soared anew after he led Argentina to win the World Cup title last year.
Messi visited China for the first time in 2004 when he was 17 years old, and he participated in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, winning a gold medal with Argentina's national team.
"The most important thing for people to do is what he or she loves. We are doing what we love, which is playing soccer," Messi told Titan Sports. "Looking at my age, I know a sports career is very short. Time flies. The important thing is to enjoy every moment."