Chinese sports authorities have canceled next month’s international friendly between Argentina and Nigeria amid growing backlash against Lionel Messi’s failure to play in an Inter Miami match in Hong Kong last week.
Argentina were scheduled to play Nigeria in the Chinese city of Hangzhou next month before facing Ivory Coast in Beijing, but Messi’s failure to take the field for Inter Miami in Hong Kong on Sunday sparked widespread anger among fans.
The Hong Kong match organizer said he would give fans a 50% refund of tickets after the Argentine did not take the field during their 4-1 win against the Hong Kong All-Stars due to injury, but he played in Japan days later.
The reaction grew on Friday, when sports authorities in Hangzhou said Argentina’s friendly against Nigeria would no longer take place.
‘As a commercial event, a company and the Argentine soccer team negotiated that the team would play a friendly match in March of this year in the city of Hangzhou,’ Hangzhou authorities said in a statement.
Chinese sports authorities canceled a friendly between Argentina and Nigeria amid backlash after Lionel Messi missed Inter Miami’s match against the Hong Kong All-Stars.
Nigeria and Argentina would play a friendly match in the Chinese city of Hangzhou next month.
David Beckham was booed by fans in Hong Kong after Lionel Messi did not play for Inter Miami
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Messi and his teammates landed in Hong Kong last Friday after being beaten 6-0 by Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr in Riyadh the previous day. The Portuguese superstar did not appear, while Messi came on in the 83rd minute.
Reports claimed that the Argentina World Cup winner was suffering from a hamstring injury when he arrived in the team. But according to Hong Kong’s Sports Minister, Messi had been contracted to play at least 45 minutes.
Two days later, Inter Miami defeated the Hong Kong All-Stars 4-1 at the Hong Kong Stadium, but the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, despite being on the bench, was not called up by coach Gerardo Martino, which angered the fans. inside the ground.
The MLS team’s owner David Beckham waved to the crowd after the match to thank them for an “incredible welcome” but was greeted with boos from the 40,000 fans inside the stadium, some of whom paid around £ 365 (USD$460). to glimpse Messi.
Reports initially claimed that fans would not receive any refunds if Messi did not appear during the game, as the 36-year-old had been used heavily in pre-match publicity. One fan had even flown from Melbourne to watch the superstar play.
Some even took out their anger on billboards around the stadium, with a video on X (formerly Twitter) showing a fan kicking a cardboard stand of Messi and several of his teammates, decapitating the Argentine.
Fans had paid huge sums of money to see Messi in action, but were denied the opportunity on Sunday.
Some of the advertising posters at the Hong Kong stadium with Messi were damaged
The Hong Kong government was equally furious about the situation and issued a statement saying it could withdraw £1.6 million ($2 million) of funding from organizers who helped bring Inter Miami to the city.
“As for Messi not playing on the day of the match, the Government, as well as all football fans, are very disappointed by the organizer’s disposition,” the statement reads.
‘The organizer owes an explanation to all football fans. The Major Sports Events Committee will take follow-up action with the organizer in accordance with the terms and conditions, including reducing the amount of funding as a result of Messi not playing the match.
Miami coach Martino stated that the club’s medical team had made the decision not to field Messi during the match.
“We understand the fans’ disappointment in the absence of Leo (Messi),” he told reporters.
“We understand that many fans are very disappointed and we apologize.
“I wish we could have sent Leo at least for a while, but the risk was too great.”
Messi also stated that he was “a little tired” and “wanted to go home”, although he revealed that he was unable to participate during the match because his injury had left him with “some discomfort”.
A cardboard cutout of Messi’s head was torn from an advertising billboard around the stadium.
‘In Hong Kong, we had an open training session and I came out because there was a big crowd there and there was a clinic with the kids, and I wanted to be there and participate.
Messi and his teammate Luis Suárez walk across the field after not playing for a second
But the truth is that the discomfort was still there and it was difficult for me to play.
“I can understand why people were looking forward to it and I hope there will be another opportunity for me to play in Hong Kong.”
Miami then traveled to Japan to face Vissel Kobe on Wednesday, and Messi came on in the 60th minute to see his team lose 1-0 on penalties. The Argentine also laughed after his teammate Robert Taylor missed two penalties during the preseason match.
He also apologized to fans on Weibo, a platform similar to X, before his match against Kobe.
He wrote: “Anyone who knows me knows I always want to play…especially these games where we travel so far and people are excited to see our games,” he wrote in Chinese and Spanish.
“Hopefully we can come back and play a game in Hong Kong.
Despite this, ChinaThe state-controlled Global Times subsequently launched a new attack on Messi, claiming his absence raised questions about differential treatment for Hong Kong. They accused the Argentine striker of “political motives” with the aim of “embarrassing” Hong Kong after playing for Inter in Japan.
Local fans could not hide their frustration after paying up to $460 to see Messi play.
Messi tried to explain that he was nursing an injury at a press conference in Tokyo.
‘The match in Hong Kong became the only one of Messi’s six pre-season friendlies on this trip in which he was absent. The situation… has magnified these doubts and suspicions about the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself.’
Meanwhile, one of the games’ organizers, Tatler Asia, said they were “heartbroken” and accused Messi and Inter Miami of “lack of respect.”
“An event that we hoped would be the pride of the city and which we have worked very hard on for months has become a source of great distress,” Tatler Asia said.
“We put our blood and sweat into bringing a world-class football match to Hong Kong and we are disappointed, as are all of you.
‘Inter Miami had committed under contract that all their star players (Messi, Alba, Busquets and Suárez) would have to play 45 minutes unless they were injured. But it turned out that we were informed that Messi and Suárez could not play due to injury.
His anger grew on Wednesday when Messi played a friendly against Vissel Kobe in Japan.
Organizers called his return to play three days later in Japan “another slap in the face”
‘Injuries are part of the game. But what bothered us was the apparent lack of respect shown towards the crowd.
“When we learned that Messi would not be playing, we begged the owners and management of Inter Miami CF to urge him to stand up, interact with the spectators and explain why he could not play.
‘It did not. The fact that Messi and Suárez played in Japan on February 7 seems like another slap in the face.
‘Our aspiration was to create an iconic moment in support of the government’s efforts to remind the world how relevant and exciting Hong Kong is. “That dream is broken today for us and for all those who bought tickets to see Messi on the field.”