'Refund!': Hong Kong football fans furious & govt disappointed as Lionel Messi benched during friendly match

A Messi mess.

Amber Tay | February 05, 2024, 06:34 PM



"Refund!" chanted angry fans as the much-anticipated football match in Hong Kong drew close to an end.

Former Manchester United star player David Beckham took the stage in an attempt to calm the disappointed spectators, only to have his post-match speech thanking fans drowned out by jeers.

Overshadowed by absence

The Feb. 4 pre-season friendly match between U.S. Major League Soccer team Inter Miami and the Hong Kong XI team was an anticipated one for football fans, with Inter Miami bringing over stars like Lionel Messi and David Beckham, captain and co-owner, respectively.

Instead, Inter Miami's win of 4-1 was overshadowed by a very prominent star player sitting on the sidelines during the entire match.

The 2022 World Cup champion Messi had a hamstring strain and did not play, leading to spectators booing and demanding refunds.

What happened

The Inter Miami team came to Hong Kong to play a friendly match with Hong Kong League XI Club.

A much anticipated game for fans and casual viewers alike, The Guardian reported that more than 38,000 tickets were sold within an hour of them going on sale in December 2023.

In videos posted on social media, disgruntled fans can be heard chanting "回水", translated as "refund".

Booing can also be heard as the match continued on.

Hong Kong government expressed "deep disappointment"

The Hong Kong government released their own statement on Feb. 4, 2024, expressing "deep disappointment" over Messi not playing in the match and "the organiser failing to provide a detailed explanation promptly."

They said many fans and tourists came to Hong Kong for the match, and the handling of the situation by the organiser and Inter Miami CF fell short of the expectations anticipated for such an event.

They revealed that a grant of HK$15 million (S$2.6 million) and a grant for venue worth HK$1 million (S$200,000) were given by The Major Sports Events Committee (MSEC) to "offer football fans a wonderful game and an opportunity to witness the world-class player showcasing his skills."

The event was awarded "M" Mark status, which is granted to major sporting events held in the city and gives the organiser additional support from the government.

"The Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau and the MSEC, will rely on the terms and conditions of the agreement in requiring the organiser to take responsibility, including a reduction of the amount of funding as a result of Messi being not able to play in the match," the statement ended.

The organiser, Tatler Asia released their own response on Instagram, stating they were extremely disappointed in Messi and former Barcelona and Liverpool forward Luis Suárez's non-participation in the match.

They also said they had no information prior to the kick-off.

Players could not be risked

Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said that Messi and Suárez could not be risked, as reported by The Guardian.

Messi is still recovering from a hamstring injury, and Suárez a knee injury.

He said he understood the fans' disappointment at the football players' absence, but that the risk was too big.

Hong Kong’s captain Yapp Hung-fai said it was regretful the team could not play against Messi, but noted there were other quality football players in the Miami team, according to The Standard.

Inter Miami VS Ronaldo's Al-Nassr

Another famous football player was under fire recently after his injury led to delayed friendly matches with Chinese Super League clubs.

Saudi Arabian football club Al-Nassr postponed their tour of China due to Cristiano Ronaldo's injury, where videos circulated on social media appeared to show angry fans rushing into the team's hotel on Jan. 23 after the announcement.

Ronaldo apologised to fans for the postponement.

“As you know, in football some things you cannot control. I have played 22 years in football and I am a player that doesn’t have too many injuries," he said.

"I know you are sad too, especially the people who love Cristiano, but we have to see this in a good way. We have not cancelled the game, we want to push for the game and be back here. We will be back."

Al-Nassr and Inter Miami went head-to-head in a friendly match on Feb. 1, with The Guardian reporting a 6-0 win for Al-Nassr with Ronaldo sitting on the bench as he cheered on his winning team and nursed his calf injury.

Messi was unfortunately benched for most of the match, only coming on to play in the last seven minutes of the game.

Top image via @Troll_Fotballl / X (formerly Twitter)