What began with a frenzy of booing and booing ended with the boss calling for refunds at the sold-out 40,000-seat Hong Kong Stadium.
Inter Miami – to ensure a winless finish during the international pre-season – comfortably beat Hong Kong XI 4-1 at an event dubbed Tatler XFEST Hong Kong.
But in the lead up to the game and during the game, there was a sense that the scoreline didn’t matter to the fans. More importantly, Messi was an eight-time World Cup champion. Ballon d’Or winnerbeautified the field.
Even the Hong Kong government shared its disappointment that the 36-year-old did not appear at the games.
“Messi was unable to play in the friendly match today and the government and the fans are disappointed with the arrangements made by the organisers,” he said in a statement on Sunday. “The producer of the show owes an explanation to the fans.”
New signing Luis Suarez was present at the pre-match press conference but did not take part in the match, while fellow marquee players Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets were substituted in the second half.
Louise Delmotte / AP
Messi sat on the bench due to the injury he picked up during Sunday’s game in Hong Kong.
Club owner David Beckham added a trophy presentation, fireworks and speeches in a dramatic finale to boos and jeers. The buzz continued as the big screen cameras panned towards Messi.
A change of mood occurred in the last 20 minutes of the match – the cry of “We need Messi” turned to “Where is Messi?” Every time a player other than Messi entered the field, there was a scream.
Cries of “refund, refund” in both English and Cantonese could be heard during the crash. according to Reuterstickets went on sale in December and cost between 880 and 4,880 Hong Kong dollars (about $113 and $624).
CNN has reached out to Tatler, the event’s producer, for comment.
In a statement on Sunday, Tatler said it was “deeply saddened” that Messi and Suarez did not play in XFEST Hong Kong and that it “did not have any information about the players not participating” before it began.
Miami coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino explained that the decision not to field Messi was too late and was made by the club’s medical staff.
“We understand the reception from the fans in the absence of Leo and Luis,” Martino apologized, also thanking Hong Kong for their “care” throughout the weekend.
“This is a decision made with our medical team. We have checked their physical health and if they enter the field they are injured.
“We understand the frustration from the fans and ask for their forgiveness. We wish we could have played for them, even for a short time, but the risk was too great.”
Martino Messi has been pressed on the type of injury he has suffered Reports Maimi said that the star player had a head problem during the previous friendly match against Al Nasr in Saudi Arabia.
“Leo has an enlarged appendix as we can see from the pictures of his muscles. We were expecting improvement, but the situation was there for several days, “said Martino, when Suarez suffered a knee injury during the trip to Saudi Arabia.
We were constantly checking with the medical team, and we also had to consider our obligations with the upcoming MLS [Major League Soccer]. So we came to the conclusion not to play Messi in the game.
“Actually, we have been assessing Leon’s condition every day. Yesterday [Saturday] He was in his final training session. [session], and we checked in the hotel until this morning. The decision was not made until late afternoon. ”
Louise Delmotte / AP
Suarez and Martino spoke at a press conference on Friday.
Hong Kong XI captain Yap Hung-fai, who played in the first half of Sunday’s game, said he was “of course very disappointed” not to play against Messi but still appreciated the experience.
“On a personal note, he’s very disappointed that he won’t be going to Hong Kong much,” said Yap, who was leading a team of players from the first division.
But we have to think about our own performance and we haven’t focused too much on the opponents who were still at the top level. Playing to a full stadium is already satisfying.
The general idea was echoed by local Messi superfan Christer Ling, who heads the city’s Argentina national team fan club.
“I think everybody’s disappointed,” Ling, who named his son Lionel in front of him, told CNN.
“It was unexpected, I thought there would be a queue for at least five minutes. Otherwise we would not have paid the price of the ticket to enter here. You hear the sentiment, which I think is valid but uncalled for at the same time.
“This whole Messi in Hong Kong thing has been building for a while. Everyone was very excited and there was a lot of drama with the tickets.
“Training session [on Saturday] It was very disappointing because he didn’t really do much and it was short. Today everyone’s expectations will be a little more, so everyone is going to be disappointed.
But as a longtime fan of his, I totally respect his decision not to play him if he’s really suffering, because he’s 36.
“I blame Inter Miami for hosting so many friendlies in different places. They should have invited everyone to come to America. I guess they wanted to raise the brand internationally, which makes sense.”
Lam Yick / USA Today Sports / Reuters
Inter Miami’s match against Hong Kong XI was played in front of the players.
“Messi Mania” took over the city on Friday with the team’s arrival, with fans crowding the hotel where they were staying in Miami. Meanwhile, the stadium was already at full capacity during the team’s practice that evening.
After Argentina’s national team played a friendly match against Australia in Beijing last summer, Messi received strong support.
It will be the star’s seventh appearance in China, and an eighth could come in March as Argentina secure two friendlies against Nigeria and Ivory Coast in Hangzhou and Beijing.
Inter Miami now travel to Japan for a friendly against Vissel Kobe on Wednesday.