Lionel Messi and Inter Miami are currently on a worldwide preseason tour before the 2024 MLS season. In the team’s latest match in Hong Kong, stars Messi and Luis Suarez both sat out, causing strong backlash from fans and the Hong Kong government. Organizers promised that specifically, Messi would play, but he was ruled out with lingering inflammation in his abductor before the game.

“We understand the disappointment of the fans that filled the stadium today about the absence of Leo and Luis Suarez,” Inter Miami head coach Geraldo 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.”

Almost 40,000 fans showed up to watch Inter Miami and Messi against their Hong Kong XI all-star team on February 4, paying anywhere from $120 to $625 for entry. Throughout the game, chants of “refund” and boos could be heard throughout the stadium as fans expressed their displeasure. The Hong Kong government has also expressed its frustration by calling for answers and reducing the budget of Tatler Hong Kong, the company that organized the game.

“The match in Hong Kong became the only one in Messi’s six pre-season friendly matches on this trip where he was absent,” the Chinese state-controlled Global Times said in a statement. “The situation … has magnified these doubts and suspicions on the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself.”

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Inter Miami won the game against Hong Kong XI 4-1 despite being without their two-star players, Messi and Suarez. The team then went to Japan to play another preseason game three days later, which Messi was able to suit up for, resulting in a 4-3 loss in penalties. Inter Miami will end its preseason tour by playing Messi’s youth team, Newell’s Old Boys, on February 15.

“Anyone who knows me knows that I always want to play … especially in these games where we travel so far and people are excited to see our games. Hopefully, we can come back and play a game in Hong Kong,” the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner said before the game in Japan.

 

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