Chinese football fans celebrate British rule of Falklands after Messi 'snub'

A damaged paper model of Lionel Messi during the friendly match between Hong Kong Team and Inter Miami. Credit: AP

By Daniel Boal, ITV News Producer

The fallout from Lionel Messi not playing at a exhibition match in Hong Kong has continued to grow as Chinese football fans turn to supporting British rule of the Falklands.

Messi had been due to play in an exhibition match in China last week, but remained on the bench due to injury.

Already irked by missing the World Cup winner in action, anger from Chinese football fans grew even further when Messi made an appearance in a friendly match in Japan just two days later.

The Beijing Football Association reacted to the alleged slight by cancelling both of Argentina's friendly matches as part of a tour of mainland China next month.

China football bosses said they would not organise Argentina’s scheduled friendly against Ivory Coast in Beijing in March, reportedly saying to local media: “Beijing does not plan, for the moment, to organise the match in which Lionel Messi was to participate.”

Chinese sports authorities also cancelled Argentina's scheduled exhibition match against Nigeria.

Messi's head was knocked out of a cardboard cutout of players after sitting out a friendly game in Hong Kong. Credit: AP

Now, British relations with China have taken an unexpected turn for the better as football fans continue to aim their anger at Messi.

Using the Chinese social media website Weibo, fans have been plastering the Argentinian embassy account with support for British rule of the Falkland Islands.

The Falklands War between Britain and Argentina began in 1982 over the sovereignty of the Islands - Argentina asserted they were part of the country's territory and invaded.

After 74 days of fighting, Argentina surrendered and to this day they remain a British overseas territory.

Some of the posts have made use of similar terms the incumbent Communist Party uses for its insistence that Taiwan is part of China.

One user wrote: "The fact that the islands belong to Britain is beyond doubt.

“Messi is a thief. All his Ballon d’Or awards were stolen.”

Landi Xie wrote: “The Falklands are an integral and inseparable part of the United Kingdom.”

While another making reference to the 1982 Falklands War, said: "The Islands are part of the UK. They were before, they are now, and of course, they will always be in the future."

Fans react during the friendly match between Hong Kong Team and US Inter Miami. Credit: AP

Hong Kong organisers of the club friendly with Inter Miami- the US club Messi is playing for currently - said they will offer a 50% refund following days of backlash against Messi from angry fans and the city government.

Many social media users in mainland China expressed their disappointment over Messi’s no-show, with China’s state-run newspaper, the Global Times, publishing an editorial that said the impact of the controversy surrounding the football superstar “has far exceeded the realm of sports.”

In an Instagram post, local organiser Tatler Asia apologised to those who were disappointed by Messi's absence and said it was upset by “the seeming lack of respect shown to the crowd.”

It also pleaded with Inter Miami management to urge Messi to explain, who was required to play for 45 minutes unless injured under their contract, why he would not be playing.

The organisers said they were in talks with the city government on how to resolve the issue and details of the refund arrangement would be announced by mid-March.

Politically motivated? China certainly seems to think so

Lionel Messi in Hong Kong. Credit: Ap

Messi addressed the widespread criticism not to play at a press conference in Tokyo, stating it was regrettable, but that he hoped to play there in the future.

But this explanation did little to calm the anger that his lack of playing time had already caused.

His appearance in the Tokyo game intensified the criticism against his absence beyond Hong Kong, where the government sought to use the game to boost the city's image as a hub for mega events.

Chinese publication The Global Times said in the editorial that the explanations from Messi and Inter Miami were not convincing enough and pointed to some speculations about the moves.

“One theory is that their actions have political motives, as Hong Kong intends to boost economy through the event and external forces deliberately wanted to embarrass Hong Kong through this incident,” it said. “Judging from the development of the situation, the possibility of this speculation cannot be ruled out.”

Pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong also weighed in.

Regina Ip, a leading member of the Executive Council, Hong Kong’s Cabinet, wrote on X: “Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong. His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting.”

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