As one of the greatest sporting cities on the planet, Melbourne is no stranger to hosting the world’s best athletes. From Roger Federer to Tiger Woods, Usain Bolt to Lewis Hamilton and even the champion racehorses, Melbourne has seen and cheered them all.
On Friday night the city welcomed its latest sporting megastar in Lionel Messi — who led Argentina to a 1-0 friendly win against South American rival Brazil at the iconic, colosseum-like Melbourne Cricket Ground — and it’s fair to say his ovation trumped almost all that have come before him.
The Barcelona star sent the 95,569 sell-out crowd into raptures as he marched his side up the tunnel pre-match and onto the pitch. Fans continued to show their love every time he went near the ball, collectively holding their breath and rising as one in a mixture of anticipation and admiration for the five-time Ballon d’Or winner.
However, it wasn’t a match littered with his usual brilliance. There was the odd instinctive deft touch, one or two zig-zagging runs and of course his sublime vision was on display, but by no means was it a Messi performance for the ages. In fact at times he appeared tired, but who could blame him?
His trip to Melbourne comes at the end of another gruelling campaign at Barcelona where he scored 54 goals from a staggering 52 matches, so fatigue was always going to be a factor. Nevertheless, fans were still thrilled to witness the historic moment and to catch a once-in-a-lifetime glimpse of the man many believe to be the greatest footballer of all time.
“I spent nine hours driving down from Sydney,” said 27-year-old avid football fan Shane Dalton. “There’s no way any Australian soccer fan could pass up the chance to see Messi in the flesh. “He’s the face of football and a name known by just about everyone in this country and around the world. His achievements really speak for themselves.
“What a moment for Australia.” Despite the hysteria around Messi, it wasn’t the first time he had set foot on the MCG turf. After all, he was part of the Argentine squad which beat Australia 1-0 in 2007, but even as one of the sport’s most promising young talents, back then his following Down Under was relatively small.
But a decade is a long time and Melburnians made sure on this visit he would leave the self-proclaimed sporting capital of the world feeling the city’s love.