Lionel Messi’s failure to play in Hong Kong last week has led to Chinese authorities punishing the entire Argentina national team, who will no longer play Nigeria in Hangzhou
Argentina’s friendly against Nigeria next month has been cancelled by Chinese sporting authorities due to Lionel Messi’s failure to appear against Hong Kong XI on February 4.
Inter Miami continue to be one of the biggest sporting attractions in world football with fans desperate to catch a glimpse of Messi in action. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner has brought more eyes on Major League Soccer than ever before, and stadiums are filling up wherever he and Miami go during pre-season.
But when Miami played against a Hong Kong XI at Hong Kong Stadium and won 4-1, both Messi and the newly-signed Luis Suarez were left on the bench. The Argentine then played days later in Japan against Vissel Kobe, and it caused mass backlash among Hong Kong fans as missed out while Japanese supporters managed to see him play.
In reaction to the recent negative press, not only have Chinese authorities punished Messi, they’ve completely scrapped hosting the game between Argentina and Nigeria. The match was meant to be hosted in the Chinese city of Hangzhou, but after Hong Kong felt disrespected, China has decided to cancel in support of their associates.
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“As a commercial event, a company and the Argentinean soccer team negotiated that the team would play a friendly match in March this year in the city of Hangzhou,” the Hangzhou authorities said in a statement. “In view of the current well-known reasons, according to the competent authorities, conditions to hold the friendly match are not mature, therefore (we) have decided to cancel it.”
Argentina are meant to play a friendly match against Ivory Coast shortly after their game against Nigeria, but it’s yet to be announced whether that game will still go ahead as planned. Fans who attended Hong Kong XI against Miami were devastated when hearing Messi was carrying an injury, but the outrage came because he came off the bench days later.
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The pre-season game saw almost 40,000 people attend, with tickets costing HK$5,000 (£507) on average. Lifestyle company Tatler Asia helped arrange the game between Miami and Hong Kong XI, and posted a statement of their own saying it was a “slap in the face” seeing Messi not play in their country, but put on a show for Japanese fans.
“When we learned that Messi would not be playing, we pleaded with Inter Miami CF ownership and management to urge him to stand up, engage with the spectators and explain why he couldn’t play,” Tatler said in their statement. “He didn’t. The fact that Messi and Suarez played in Japan on Feb. 7 feels like another slap in the face.”
Fans that bought tickets through legitimate websites were entitled to a 50 per cent refund, but Tatler are still hoping that Messi and Miami will provide the Hong Kong government with a proper explanation. “The government hopes that the Inter Miami team will eventually provide a reasonable explanation to Hong Kong citizens and fans who came to Hong Kong to watch the game,” they added.
The company claims that Miami promised both Messi and Suarez would play for 45 minutes unless injured, and felt that the Argentine was fit to play after he played 30 minutes in Japan three days later. “That dream is broken today for us and all those who bought tickets to see Messi on the pitch,” Tatler’s statement concluded.