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Messi denies political snub was behind Hong Kong no-show

By AFP

February 20, 2024 10:29 AM


File photo

Lionel Messi denied his absence from a match in Hong Kong two weeks ago that angered China was a political snub, but was caused by an injury.

The eight-time Ballon d'Or winner is idolised by fans in China but stayed on the bench during Inter Miami's 4-1 win in a pre-season tour match against a Hong Kong select XI on February 4.

A near 40,000 sellout crowd, who had paid upwards of 1,000 Hong Kong dollars ($125) to see the 36-year-old superstar in action, chanted "Refund!", gave thumbs-down signs and booed Messi and the team's co-owner David Beckham after the final whistle.

Some nationalist politicians interpreted Messi's absence as a snub to China after the Argentina great was fit enough to take the field for 30 minutes in a friendly a few days later in Japan.

In a video posted on China's Weibo social media platform late on Monday, the World Cup-winning captain rejected claims that his no-show was "for political reasons".

If that had been the case, he said, he "would not have travelled" to Hong Kong in the first place.

"As everyone knows, I always want to play and be in every game," he said.

Messi spoke in his video of a "very nice and very close" relationship with China, a country with which he said he had "done a lot of things".

His reason for not playing was due to injury, he said, specifically "inflammation of an adductor" muscle.

Fans on Weibo reacted quickly to the video, some in support of Messi.

"I believe the player I have always loved would never look at his fans with any kind of prejudice," wrote one user, adding, "he always values every fan."

"I still can't understand how such a supreme footballer, the greatest of all time, can be pilloried online to the extent that he is considered not to love China just for missing a friendly match," another fan wrote.

Not everyone was appeased.

"Turns out it's still hard to say sorry after all," read one Weibo comment.

"Give it a rest," said another. "Run off to Japan and drink sewage."

Messi starred last June when Argentina beat Australia in Beijing in a friendly, scoring in the opening minutes in front of an adoring crowd.

But next month's Argentina friendlies against Nigeria in Hangzhou and Africa champions Ivory Coast in Beijing were cancelled after Messi failed to play in Hong Kong.


AFP


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