Inter Miami forward Lionel Messi has faced heat from the Chinese media for missing the friendly with Hong Kong XI on February 4. The fact that he played another friendly in Tokyo three days later infuriated them.
Messi sat out Miami’s 4-1 victory over Hong Kong XI, an assortment of the region’s best first-division players, due to a hamstring injury. His former Barcelona teammate Luis Suarez also didn’t play, but the Herons registered their first win in five pre-season games.
The Argentine’s absence didn’t please the 38,000 fans who had travelled from afar to catch a glimpse of the FIFA World Cup 2022 winner in action. Messi posted on Weibo (as per Telegraph) in both Chinese and Spanish:
“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.”
As per Telegraph Sport, state-owned Global Times posed questions about Messi‘s ‘integrity’:
“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 situation … has magnified these doubts and suspicions on the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself.”
Hong Kong’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau added about Messi’s absence in the Hong Kong game – where fans were seen asking for refunds – and appearing in Japan three days later:
“However three days later, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan … the government hopes the organisers and teams can provide reasonable explanations.”
A fan, who came for the Hong Kong game, said:
“All the backlash Inter Miami got, plus Messi, I think he feels like he needs to make up for it. That’s why he promised to come back and play the game again.”
As per the aforementioned source, while the Hong Kong game was a sellout, the one in Tokyo had many empty seats.
What’s next for Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami?
Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami will next be in action at home to Messi’s boyhood club Newell’s Old Boys on February 15.
The pre-season hasn’t gone as expected for Miami, winning only one of their six games and losing four. They’re coming off a shootout defeat to Vissel Kobe in Tokyo on February 7 after a goalless draw.
Lionel Messi has scored once in the ongoing pre-season, against Al-Hilal in a 4-3 loss and only came off the bench against Al-Nassr (6-0 loss) and Vissel Kobe. Despite his recent injury woes, he’s expected to feature against Newell’s.