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Messi Misses Preseason Victory in Hong Kong, Fans Express Disappointment

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Messi Misses Preseason Victory In Hong Kong, Fans Express Disappointment

Messi Mania hit Hong Kong this weekend as Argentine star Lionel Messi’s globetrotting Inter Miami team got its first preseason victory, 4-1 against Hong Kong XI early Sunday morning.

But the win came without Messi, who was kept out of the game due to inflammation of the adductor hip muscles as 40,000 fans at Hong Kong Stadium chanted his name, urging him to play. The stadium was packed with Messi No. 10 jerseys.

According to media reports from Hong Kong, fans booed toward the end of the game when it was apparent Messi would not play, booed co-owner David Beckham as he tried to make post-game remarks, and then booed as Inter Miami players received their trophy.

The Hong Kong government later issued a statement expressing its disappointment in Messi’s absence from the game, adding that there could be deductions from the organizers’ sponsorship fees ($2 million USD) for the event:

“The Government is extremely disappointed with the organizer’s arrangement, as are the fans, for Messi not being able to play in today’s exhibition match. The organizer owes the fans an explanation. The Major Sports Events Committee will follow up with the organizer in accordance with the terms of the agreement with a possible deduction of sponsorship for the failure of Messi to play.”

Messi was left off the game roster, and his former FC Barcelona teammates Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba, and Luis Suarez (knee inflammation) did not start. Neither did goalkeeper Drake Callender. Busquets and Alba came in as subs in the 62nd minute with Miami holding a comfortable lead.

Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said Messi had an MRI last week in Saudi Arabia, was listed as day to day, did light jogging at training Saturday, the medical staff reassessed him Sunday morning and felt it would be risky for him to play. The decision was made shortly before game time to keep him out. Suarez, who has been battling knee issues the past few years, woke up with knee inflammation after the second game in Saudi Arabia and required rest, the coach explained.

Martino said the priority is for them to be healthy for the MLS season opener Feb. 21 against Real Salt Lake.

“We understand the fans’ disappointment in the absence of Messi and Suarez, and we apologize for that, but this was a decision made with our medical staff,” Martino said in his post-game comments. “If there was a way they could have played even a little while we would have done it, but there was too much risk involved.”

Inter Miami got goals from Robert Taylor, Lawson Sunderland, Leo Campana, and Ryan Sailor.

Taylor scored just before halftime on a curling shot and Hong Kong XI tied two minutes later on a goal from Henri Anier. Miami retook the lead in the 49th minute when midfielder Lawson Sunderland, making his first start, slotted home a close-range shot with an assist from Ryan Sailor, who had come in as a sub to replace injured Sergiy Kryvtsov. Campana started the passing sequence.

Campana made it 3-1 in the 55th minute with an assist from Sunderland. It was his first goal of the preseason. Sailor added another in the 85th minute on a leaping header.

Asked to assess his team’s performance Sunday, Martino said “Overall it was a good performance. We decided to switch formations from five in back to a 4-3-3, and it was clear the players seemed much more comfortable on the field.”

Although the Miami team was winless in its previous four preseason matches, including a 6-0 rout by Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia on Thursday, Messi had received a hero’s welcome from adoring fans in Hong Kong. Messi’s face and Adidas logos graced the pink sails of a traditional junk boat in Victoria Harbour. A giant Messi video played on a wall in the touristy Tsim Sha Tsui East area and Adidas Inter Miami pop-up stores sold Messi and team merchandise.

A near-capacity crowd of 40,000 showed up at Hong Kong Stadium Saturday for Inter Miami’s open training session and charity clinic. Fans went wild when Messi and team co-owner David Beckham stepped on the field. It had been 10 years since Messi last played in Hong Kong, when the Argentine national team played a Hong Kong All-Star team.

“The noise coming out of the tunnel was incredible,” Sunderland said after the training session. “The tour has been a very unique experience. I have loved every minute, learned a lot, and the games were really good competition.”

His teammate Shanyder Borgelin agreed.

“I definitely never thought I’d be part of something like this,” Borgelin said. “It’s amazing to get the Inter Miami brand out to the world and see all the different cultures.”

The tour includes six games in 20 days. It concludes Wednesday with a game against Vissel Kobe in Tokyo, Japan. The final preseason match is Feb. 15 at home against Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys, the hometown team of Messi and Martino.

Messi sat on the bench the first 82 minutes against Al Nassr before coming on briefly at the end. On Sunday, he never got on the field. A reporter asked Martino if the fans should have been told in advance that Messi would not play. He stressed that it was a game day decision.

The starters were: CJ Dos Santos, Noah Allen, Sergiy Kryvtsov, Tomas Aviles, DeAndre Yedlin, Lawson Sunderland, Gregore, David Ruiz, Leo Campana, Robert Taylor, Julian Gressel.

This story was originally published February 4, 2024, 3:49 AM.

Rachel Adams

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