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HONG KONG: Lionel Messi fans were left infuriated after the Argentinean football superstar failed to participate in an exhibition game in Hong Kong where they had paid hundreds of dollars to see him play.
Hong Kong’s sports minister on Monday reiterated the government’s call for an explanation from the organizer of a match between Inter Miami and a local team following widespread disappointment over Lionel Messi remaining on the bench throughout the entire game.
A sellout crowd of 40,000 fans attended the exhibition match on Sunday between a team of top Hong Kong players and Inter Miami, a Major League football club that Messi joined last year. Many in the crowd wore the blue and white of Argentina’s 2022 World Cup champion national team or the pink of Inter Miami, both of which Messi captains.
U.S. Major League football team Inter Miami defeated a select Hong Kong XI 4-1 in a friendly match, but did so without the help of the Argentine superstar who remained on the bench for the whole 90 minutes.
The Miami Herald reported that Messi had an MRI last week ahead of a friendly match in Saudi Arabia. While he was reportedly expected to be left off the roster, he appeared at the 83rd minute when the Florida team was already down 0-6.
The South China Morning Post called Sunday’s match the “greatest let-down of all time,” reporting that fans were booing and calling for refunds at the final whistle.
The friendly match had been awarded “M” Mark status which is granted to major sporting events held in the city. The designation allows organizers to tap on selected support measures from the city’s government. Hong Kong said it had awarded the event a matching grant of 15 million Hong Kong dollars ($1.9 million) and a venue grant of HK$1 million.