Hong Kong demands answers after Lionel Messi no-show for Inter Miami as David Beckham booed

Lionel Messi remains on the bench, to the fury of fans in Hong Kong
Lionel Messi remained on the bench, to the fury of fans in Hong Kong - AFP/Peter Parks
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Hong Kong demanded answers and expressed “extreme” disappointment after Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi failed to appear in a pre-season game in the city.

Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain, 36, had been left on the bench with a hamstring injury as his MLS team Inter Miami beat a local League XI 4-1.

Chants of “refund” rang out from the sold-out 38,000 crowd and a speech by Inter co-owner David Beckham was also drowned out by booing.

On Sunday, the Hong Kong government said match organisers Tatler Asia may face a reduction in funding. “Regarding Messi not playing the match today, the government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed about the organisers’ arrangement,” said officials in a statement. “The organisers owe all football fans an explanation.”

Supporters in Hong Kong demand refunds
Supporters in Hong Kong demanded refunds - AP/Louise Delmotte

More than 38,000 tickets had been snapped up within an hour of them going on sale in December. Inter Miami coach Tata Martino defended the decision, saying that the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, as well as former Barcelona team-mate Luis Suárez who also stayed on the bench, could not be risked.

Fans who filled the same arena a day earlier saw the 2022 World Cup winner in an open training session along with the Miami co-owner David Beckham.

“We understand the disappointment of the fans for the absence of Leo [Messi] and Luis Suárez,” Martino said. “We understand a lot of fans are very disappointed and we ask for their forgiveness. We wish we could have sent Leo and Luis on for at least a while but the risk was too big.”

Each spectator had each paid more than 1,000 Hong Kong dollars (£101) for a ticket. In the second half, chants of “we want Messi” intensified as the Argentina captain, signed last July, continued to watch from the bench.

Beckham was then drowned out by jeers when he tried to thank fans for their “incredible support” at the final whistle.

In a statement, the organisers said: “Despite some news reports, Tatler did not have any information about the non-participation of Messi or Suarez prior to kick-off.

“Messi and Suarez were deemed unfit to play by their team’s medical department, to everyone’s, including our, disappointment.”

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