Next month’s Argentina friendly in China was called off on Friday in further fallout from Lionel Messi’s absence from Inter Miami’s exhibition match in Hong Kong.
Last month, World Cup champion Argentina, captained by Messi, was scheduled to tour China during the international break from March 18 to 26. The games were scheduled to be against Nigeria in Hangzhou and Ivory Coast in Beijing. Both opponents coincidentally will meet in this weekend’s African Cup of Nations final.
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However, Messi, who is away with Inter Miami, did not play in Sunday’s local selection match and remained on the bench, infuriating Hong Kong fans. Messi said he injured his groin. But after playing 30 minutes against Vissel Kobe in Tokyo on Wednesday, his excuses didn’t hold up in Hong Kong.
On Friday, the Hangzhou sports bureau canceled a friendly match between Argentina and Nigeria.
The Hangzhou Sports Bureau announced on its official social media, “For reasons well known to the public, we have been informed by the supervisory authorities that the conditions are not yet ripe for the match to proceed.It has now been decided that the match will be cancelled.” account.
A source from the Argentine Football Association told the federation that they were aware of the suspension of the match and were looking for another venue to play against Nigeria. “This is a sensitive issue,” the official said on condition of anonymity.
Anne-Marie Noguessan, a spokeswoman for the Ivorian national team, told The Associated Press on Friday that the Ivorian national team’s friendly match against Argentina in Beijing will go ahead as scheduled.
Meanwhile, Hong Kong organizers of the friendly against Inter Miami announced they would issue 50% refunds after days of backlash from angry fans and the city government.
Many social media users in mainland China expressed disappointment at Messi’s absence, and China’s state-run newspaper Global Times said in an editorial that the impact of the controversy surrounding the soccer superstar “reaches far beyond the realm of sports.” Stated. ”
In an Instagram post on Friday, local organizers Tatler Asia apologized to those disappointed by Messi’s absence and said they were offended by “what appears to be a lack of respect for the crowd”.
After learning that Messi would not play, who was contractually obligated to play 45 minutes unless injured, he reiterated his plea to Inter Miami management to ask Messi to explain the situation to the crowd. .
“He didn’t. The fact that Messi…played in Japan on February 7th feels like another slap in the face,” the article said.
Organizers said they were in talks with the city government on how to resolve the issue and that details of refund arrangements were expected to be announced by mid-March.
Tickets for this match can cost up to HK$4,880 ($624) each. Tatler Asia said in a statement that it would refund a total of HK$56 million ($7.2 million), resulting in a loss of HK$43 million ($5.5 million). Organizers said the net profit before refunds was HK$13 million ($1.7 million).
Tatler Asia announced on Monday that it had already withdrawn its application for funding from the city government to host the matches.
Following the announcement, the Hong Kong government issued a statement welcoming the deal and calling it a responsible move. However, Hong Kong society still has many questions regarding the incident, especially after watching Messi play in Japan, and hopes that Inter Miami can provide the public with a reasonable explanation, the paper said. said.
Inter Miami apologized in a statement to Reuters on Thursday.
The MLS club said: “Despite our best intentions, we understand the disappointment caused by the absence of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez from Sunday’s game and regret that both players were unavailable.” I feel sorry for that.”
“We are also aware that the late decision caused frustration for Hong Kong supporters and tournament promoter Tatler Asia. Unfortunately injuries are part of the beautiful game and the health of the players must always come first. I feel it necessary to express what must be done.”
PR After the disaster broke out on Sunday, Messi explained his reasons for not playing at a press conference in Tokyo and addressed the widespread disappointment.
He also said on Chinese social media platform Weibo that he was disappointed not to be able to play in Hong Kong. In his post, he said he would like to return to Hong Kong to play for the fans and go to mainland China to share the joy of soccer.
However, his appearance in Wednesday’s match in Tokyo prompted further criticism beyond Hong Kong for his absence. Hong Kong’s government sought to use Sunday’s match to boost the city’s image as a center for large-scale events.
On Wednesday, the Global Times said in an editorial that Messi and Inter Miami’s explanations were not convincing, pointing to speculation about the move.
“One theory is that their actions were politically motivated, as Hong Kong intended to revitalize the economy through this incident, and external forces intentionally tried to embarrass Hong Kong through this incident. “There is,” he said. “Given the development of the situation, we cannot rule out this possibility of speculation.”
Pro-China politicians in Hong Kong have expressed similar opinions, with Regina Yip, a key member of the Hong Kong Cabinet’s Executive Committee, writing on X (formerly Twitter), “Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong.” No. His lies and hypocrisy are terrible.” Horrible. “
The match in Japan concluded Inter Miami’s worldwide promotional tour. Miami has won only one of six games in Central North America, Saudi Arabia and Asia. The tour concludes on February 16th in Florida against Newell’s Old Boys, Messi’s childhood club in Rosario, Argentina.
The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.