It took hours of waiting, a pricey hotel room and an exhausting chase through Beijing, but it was all worth it for a Chinese fan of Lionel Messi who eventually got a blurry selfie with his hero.
Argentine legend Messi is in the Chinese capital for a friendly against Australia on Thursday and has been greeted by crowds of frenzied football fans eager for a glimpse.
Among them is Liu Yuhang, a 26-year-old computer programmer from the northeastern province of Liaoning who fell in love with the World Cup-winner a decade ago.
“He’s not just an athlete, he’s an artist,” Liu told AFP on Monday. “He’s given me more meaning in life and become a kind of belief for me.”
He said he felt “really excited” when he heard Messi was making a rare visit to China – but knew he faced an uphill battle to see his idol in the flesh.
Liu first joined the throngs of fans waiting outside the Argentina squad’s hotel, but was unable to sneak a proper look at Messi on his way inside.
Undeterred, Liu spent over 2,000 yuan ($280) on a luxury room inside, but was again foiled by the tight security presence.
His chance finally came on Sunday when he saw the team coach pulling out of the hotel on the way to a training session.
A frantic bicycle chase through the sweltering capital culminated with a panting Liu drawing alongside the vehicle at a red light.
His reward: a brief wave from a bemused-looking Messi in the back seat and a distant selfie with the man himself just visible in the background.
“At that moment I felt really happy,” Liu said. “I spent quite a lot of money for this, but if I hadn’t… I might have always regretted it.”
Messi arrived in Beijing on Saturday and will lead Argentina against Australia at the capital’s newly renovated 68,000-capacity Workers’ Stadium.
The tie is a rematch of the last-16 clash at last year’s World Cup, which Argentina won 2-1 on their way to lifting the trophy.
Tickets for the friendly game – ranging from 580 to 4,800 yuan – were snapped up quickly, with Liu among those missing out.
“I tried to buy one, but couldn’t,” he said, adding that he planned to stream the match online with friends.