Messi no-show for Inter Miami friendly draws boos from sold-out crowd, condemnation from Hong Kong government

Fans in Hong Kong weren't interested in seeing Lionel Messi, left, and Luis Suárez in street clothes. (Stephen Law/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)
Fans in Hong Kong weren't interested in seeing Lionel Messi, left, and Luis Suárez in street clothes. (Stephen Law/Eurasia Sport Images/Getty Images)

Fans in Hong Kong showed up on Sunday to watch Lionel Messi play.

They did not get what they paid for.

A crowd of roughly 40,000 fans at Hong Kong Stadium rained down boos as Messi walked the sideline in street clothes instead of his uniform at the conclusion of Inter Miami's friendly against all-star team Hong Kong XI. Fellow star Luis Suárez also missed the game.

The crowd issued chants during the game of "where is Messi?" and "refund, refund, refund."

They unleashed a torrent of boos toward team owner and retired soccer star David Beckham when he gave a statement on the stadium's video screen.

Hong Kong government gets involved

The no-show prompted condemnation and a call from Hong Kong's Major Sports Events Committee (MSEC) for reduced funding of organizers after the government body says it provided $1.92 million to help facilitate the match.

"Regarding Messi not playing the match today, the Government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed about the organizers' arrangement," an MSEC statement reads. "The organizer owes all football fans an explanation.

"The MSEC 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."

The organizer, Tatler Hong Kong, issued its own statement in response, expressing "extreme disappointment" while declaring that it expected Messi and Suárez to play.

"Despite some news reports, Tatler did not have any information about the non-participation of Messi or Suárez prior to kick off," the statement reads. "Messi and Suárez were deemed unfit to play by their team's medical department to everyone's, including ours, disappointment."

Messi sat due to an inflamed adductor. Suárez was sidelined with a lingering knee injury. Per The Athletic, Messi practiced in an open session on Saturday. Head coach Tata Martino said that he was ruled out on Sunday following a pregame evaluation at the team hotel.

Messi's participation was promoted to sell tickets

This was news to fans, who showed up to Sunday's match fully expecting the international star to play. Per Reuters, fans paid up to 4,800 in Hong Kong dollars ($624 U.S.) for tickets. Tatler Hong Kong had featured Messi in its game promotion alongside assurances that he would play alongside "ALL Inter Miami marquee stars."

Martino downplayed Messi's injury on Friday while telling reporters that he was "likely" to play.

"We want Leo to play as much as possible," Martino said at a Friday news conference. "We will evaluate the players. The hope is that Leo can play the most minutes. We will see in tomorrow's training but it is likely he will play on Sunday."

Per The Athletic, Messi's absence wasn't advertised pregame. He was initially announced as a substitute prior to game time and was listed on the team's roster sheet, per the report. Per local reports, fans showed up to the game in Messi gear as stadium announcers continued to promote the stars who were expected to play. Only when late substitutions didn't include Messi did fans realize that they wouldn't get to see him take the pitch.

Martino explained the decision to sit Messi and Suárez postgame while acknowledging the fans' disappointment.

"Well, Leo has swelling in the adductor," Martino said, per Reuters. ... "When we sat down with the medical team they voiced their view that it was very risky for this footballer to play today. In Luis' case, he has a problem with his knee. He woke up swollen after the second match in [Saudi] Arabia. So he wasn't fit for today's match.

"We understand the disappointment from the crowd who came to the stadium today that Leo and Luis were absent."

Inter Miami won Sunday's game, 4-1.