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Lionel Messi plays in Japan three days after Hong Kong no-show due to injury

Messi ‘regrets’ not being able to play in Hong Kong friendly match

Alisha Rahaman Sarkar
Thursday 08 February 2024 06:50 GMT
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Fans boo David Beckham and Lionel Messi after latter sits out Hong Kong friendly

Football star Lionel Messi on Wednesday joined his Inter Miami team in the 60th minute of a friendly match in Japan, leaving fans in Hong Kong seething after the weekend no-show.

Hundreds of livid fans in Hong Kong sought refunds after the Argentine legend spent the entirety of Sunday's friendly match against Hong Kong XI in a tracksuit on the bench due to a hamstring injury.

Fans at the Hong Kong ground chanted “we want Messi” and booed Inter Miami owner David Beckham during a speech in protest.

The fiasco was promptly criticised by city leader John Lee, who asked the organisers of the pre-season friendly to provide an explanation and address the calls for a refund.

"The performance of the organiser has an impact on Hong Kong’s image and reputation," Mr Lee said earlier this week.

Tickets for the Hong Kong game were sold at upwards of HK$1,000 (£101).

While the sold-out match in Hong Kong drew around 38,000 spectators, including government officials, the Japan National Stadium was less than half full with just 28,614 in attendance.

Inter Miami CF forward Lionel Messi (10) runs into space as Vissel Kobe midfielder Yosuke Ideguchi (7) defends during the second half of a preseason friendly at Japan National Stadium (USA TODAY Sports via Reuters Con)

Inter Miami's opponent, J-League champion Vissel Kobe, won Wednesday's match 4-3 in a penalty shootout after 90 minutes of play ended in a 0-0 draw.

Minutes before Messi jumped into action on Wednesday, he issued an apology to his Hong Kong fans through the Chinese social media platform Weibo.

"Hello to all my fans in mainland China and Hong Kong! As I said in the press conference, it was a real shame not to be able to play in Hong Kong the other day due to a groin injury that had swollen and I was in pain,” the Weibo post said.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I always want to play, that’s what I always want, to do my best in any game. And especially in these games when we travel so far and fans are excited to see us attend the game healthily.”

"I regretted not being able to play in the friendly match in Hong Kong due to a groin injury," he said, adding that he hopes to return to the financial hub and mainland China "as soon as possible".

Messi's apology triggered a backlash from government officials and Chinese football fans as some had travelled from the mainland for hours to watch the friendly.

Hong Kong's Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau said in a statement that, like the fans, it was very disappointed that Messi could not play in Hong Kong due to injury.

"However three days later, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan...the government hopes the organisers and teams can provide reasonable explanations."

"I couldn't help but start laughing when (Luis) Suarez, (Sergio) Busquets, (Jordi) Alba - all main players - were in the game," Tweety, a Hong Kong resident who watched Wednesday’s match online, told Reuters.

"Messi really likes the Japanese fans more by playing 30 minutes."

Some fans in Hong Kong lashed out at the perceived injustice, commenting on Inter Miami's YouTube livestream posting: "Refund refund refund refund refund" and "Arrest Messi under National Security Law."

Inter Miami coach Tata Martino told reporters in the mixed zone after the match that the decision to play Messi for 30 minutes was made after the training session a day earlier.

"We are grateful to the people of Hong Kong, and we definitely understand the disappointment because (Messi) could not participate," he said. "But it really was an enormous risk even playing him for a few minutes."

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