Hong Kong's Messi misery: Fans complain after World Cup winner fails to play in exhibition game

A fan holds a 'No Messi refund please' sign during Inter Miami's game against Hong Kong XI.
Fans voiced their disapproval at Lionel Messi missing Inter Miami's game against Hong Kong XI. Credit: AP

Lionel Messi has gone from hero to zero in Hong Kong after the Argentine failed to take to the pitch in an Inter Miami showcase game staged in the city.

The World Cup winner was supposed to be the star of the show in the friendly game against Hong Kong XI, but both he and Luis Suarez - the team's two biggest stars - stayed on the bench.

As Inter Miami left the field following their 4-1 win, chants of "refund, refund" could be heard from the crowd, and club owner David Beckham was booed during his post-match speech.

After arriving in Hong Kong, the World Cup winner was mobbed by adoring fans who camped out at the team hotel, wearing the blue and white of Argentina or the pink strip of Inter Miami.

Tens of thousands flocked to the stadium for a training session ahead of the Saturday night match, and chanted "Messi, Messi, Messi" as he and Beckham played with a group of local school children.

Tickets for the game went on sale in December and sold out almost immediately, with some Messi fans paying up to £500 to see him playing in Hong Kong for the first time since 2014.

Lionel Messi was an unused substitute for the match. Credit: AP

The Hong Kong government put out a statement following the game expressing "deep disappointment over Messi not playing" and at the organisers for failing to provide a detailed explanation promptly.

On Monday, the secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism revealed that there had been an agreement with the organisers that Messi must participate in the game for at least forty-five minutes, subject to fitness and safety considerations.

When the second half began without the player having taken to the field, the organisers were told to speak to Inter Miami bosses and arrange for Messi to play as soon as possible.

They were later told that he was injured. A final request was made for him to come on at the end and interact with fans and accept the trophy, but the organisers were informed Messi was unable to take part.

It is clear head coach Gerardo Martino had no intention of playing Messi or Suarez in the game, admitting afterwards that the pair have injuries that he did not want to aggravate.

Outside the stadium a fan angrily kicked a cardboard cut-out of Messi, and many fans took to social media to express their anger.

A damaged cardboard cutout of Inter Miami's Lionel Messi during the club's friendly against Hong Kong XI. Credit: AP

The government has criticised Inter Miami for its handling of the situation, and not telling fans in good time that the star they had come to see would not take to the field.

Inter Miami are continuing their Asia tour with a trip to Tokyo, where they will play another pre-season friendly on Wednesday.

Fans in Japan who had been preparing for Messi mania, are now preparing themselves to share in Hong Kong's Messi misery.

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