Inter Miami finally won their first game of preseason, but the fact that Lionel Messi did not play caused notable discontent with fans in Hong Kong who bought tickets with the hopes of seeing the World Cup winner.
The MLS side won 4-1 on Sunday, which was their first win in five games during their globe-trotting preseason tour that will see them travel over 24,000 miles. Miami, though, did so without playing a handful of their stars. Messi and Luis Suarez did not play, while Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba came off the bench.
This prompted the Hong Kong government to release the following statement:
Regarding Messi not playing the match today, the government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed about the organizer’s arrangement. The organiser owes all football fans an explanation.
The MSEC (Major Sports Eents Committee) will take follow-up actions with the organizer according to the terms and conditions, which includes reducing the amount of funding as a result of Messi not playing the match.
It was the first time this preseason all four were not named as starters, but Messi was also dropped from the lineup for Thursday’s 6-0 loss to Al-Nassr in Riyadh. He came on as a substitute and played six minutes that day but was originally expected to be left out entirely after experiencing discomfort and undergoing an MRI. He missed Sunday’s game in Hong Kong with an injury, but few specifics about his fitness are known at this time.
Despite the obvious risks of Messi missing a match that people paid top dollar to see, those in attendance were noticeably upset upon his exclusion. The 40,000 people who packed Hong Kong Stadium reportedly chanted “refund” and also booed David Beckham, the Inter Miami owner who was on site for this leg of the preseason tour, when he came onto the pitch to address the crowd.
“We understand the disappointment of the fans that filled the stadium today about the absence of Leo and Luis Suarez,” Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said. “This decision was made together with the medical staff. We ran a lot of risk of aggravating their injuries and that’s why they couldn’t be in the game. We understand the disappointment that people have.”
Miami next travel to Japan for a friendly against Vissel Kobe on Wednesday before wrapping up their preseason schedule at home against Newell’s Old Boys, where Messi played in the academy before joining Barcelona as a teenager. They begin the MLS season on Feb. 21 against Real Salt Lake.