Football fans in Hong Kong entered Sunday with high expectations, but were left utterly disappointed. Lionel Messi failed to make an appearance during Inter Miami’s recent friendly against Hong Kong XI, which sent spectators into a state of rage and meltdown.
The Argentine genius was on the bench for the friendly, and was an unused substitute throughout the match. Despite his absence, Inter Miami ran riot and sealed a 4-1 victory, courtesy of goals from Robert Taylor, Lawson Sunderland, Leonardo Campana and Ryan Sailor. Meanwhile, even Luis Suarez was benched and failed to make a substitute appearance.
38,323 fans were present at the stadium, and had spent upwards of 1,000 Hong Kong dollars for tickets. Throughout the second-half, fans chanted “We want Messi” and when it was confirmed that he would not be making an appearance, they began to shout for refunds. Then at the final whistle when Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham tried to thank the spectators for their support, fans jeered and booed at him, with thumbs-down gestures.
Meanwhile, the Hong Kong government said in a statement, “Regarding Messi not playing the match today, the Government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed about the organiser’s arrangement. The organiser owes all football fans an explanation.”
Ahead of the match, Hong Kong had already been decorated with Messi’s face across giant screens and even a boat had his face, and it sailed around the harbour. Meanwhile, pop-up stores were designed like Inter Miami’s dressing room, selling Messi’s jersey and other merchandise.
The friendly was organised by Tatler, as part of their XFEST exhibition match. It was also part of Hong Kong’s tourism strategy with authorities dedicating over 15 million Hong Kong dollars in grants to the event. According to the organiser, tickets for the match were sold out within an hour of its announcement in December.
But fans felt betrayed as Messi failed to make even a substitute appearance. Inter Miami manager Gerardo Martino apologised to fans, but revealed that Messi wasn’t fit to appear. “We also enjoyed today in the stadium, but understand there is a lot of disappointment among fans because of the absence of Luis Suarez and Lionel Messi. This has been the decision of the medical team, we have checked their physical situation, and if we sent them on the pitch, we would have risked their physical well being. We understand fans are very disappointed and we ask for their forgiveness. We wish we could have sent them on the pitch for a while to play, but the risk was too big,” he said.
Meanwhile, in a statement, Tatler Hong Kong said, “We, alongside all football fans who attended that match, had been eagerly anticipating Messi’s and Suárez’s participation and share in the disappointment felt by everyone watching.”