After an unexpected absence in a soccer match against Hong Kong last month, Argentinian soccer star Lionel Messi faced significant backlash from Hong Kong fans.

Since Messi joined Inter Miami FC, the club has played in a significant number of international friendlies to give soccer fans across the world a chance to watch the greatest player of all time work his magic.

On February 4, Messi was expected to play in a game against the Hong Kong XI team but was unable to participate in the match. No initial explanation came out in the media and Chinese authorities subsequently canceled two matches against Argentina’s national team in response to the issue.

The backlash increased after Messi appeared as a 60th-minute substitute in a game against Vissel Kobe in Tokyo just four days later.

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In the backlash, many people questioned how Messi was able to recover in just four days after unexpectedly missing a match with his team. The hashtag “medical miracle” trended on social media with over 1.3 million views.

Speculation arose that Messi missed the game in Hong Kong on purpose and for political reasons. He denied this in a video released on Weibo and insisted that it was because of an inflamed adductor that had gotten worse the day before the match. In his video response, Messi talked about his relationship with the country.

“I’ve had a very close and special relationship with China and I’ve done a lot of things in China,” Messi said. He added that he would like to have the opportunity to go to China again after sending good wishes to the Chinese people.

The video amassed over 20,000 comments and over 200,000 likes in about one hour, and the majority of the media seemed to respect his response and move on with the matter. There was still a small fraction of people questioning his true intentions.

This is just the latest example of how quickly backlash against celebrities can snowball in China’s social media sphere. In some cases, there are serious business ramifications in China’s consumer-based market. The “wolf-warrior” diplomats in China frequently release sharp and blunt public statements on these matters as well.

Interestingly, this case resulted in the Hong Kong match organizer refunding 50% of the ticket price for fans who attended the game. This was a move that would leave the company facing $5.5 million in losses, which certainly did not help China’s consumer-based market either.

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