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The Roar


Argentina friendly in China cancelled amid outrage over Messi exhibition match snub

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9th February, 2024

An Argentina national team friendly in China next month has been cancelled amid further fall-out from Lionel Messi failing to play in a club exhibition match in Hong Kong.

Argentina, captained by Messi, last month scheduled a tour of China during the international break from March 18-26.

Games had been lined up against Nigeria in Hangzhou and Ivory Coast in Beijing. Both opponents, coincidentally, meet in the Africa Cup final this weekend.

But Messi, on tour with Inter Miami, caused outrage among fans in Hong Kong when he didn’t play against a local selection last Sunday and remained on the bench.

The world’s best player said he had a groin injury but his excuse didn’t wash in Hong Kong after he played for 30 minutes on Wednesday in Tokyo against Vissel Kobe.

On Friday, the sports bureau in Hangzhou cancelled the Argentina-Nigeria friendly.

The fate of the Argentina-Ivory Coast friendly in Beijing was uncertain.

“Because of the reasons known to all, we’ve learned from supervising authorities that the conditions are immature for the match to go forward. Now it’s been decided that the match will be canceled,” the Hangzhou Sports Bureau announced on its official social media account.


(Photo by Gustavo Pagano/Getty Images)

An Argentina Football Association official told the Association Press it was aware the match was suspended and was looking for another venue to play Nigeria. The official said: “It’s a sensitive matter.”

Meanwhile, Hong Kong organisers of the club friendly with Inter Miami said they will offer a 50 per cent refund following days of backlash from angry fans and the city government.

Many social media users in mainland China expressed their disappointment over Messi’s no-show, with China’s state-run newspaper, the Global Times, publishing an editorial that said the impact of the controversy surrounding the soccer superstar “has far exceeded the realm of sports.”

In an Instagram post on Friday, local organisers, Tatler Asia, apologised to those who were disappointed by Messi’s absence and said it was upset by “the seeming lack of respect shown to the crowd.”

It reiterated it pleaded with Inter Miami management to urge Messi to explain to the spectators after it learned Messi, who was required to play for 45 minutes unless injured under their contract, would not be playing.


“He didn’t. The fact that Messi … played in Japan on February 7th feels like another slap in the face,” it said.

The organisers said they were in talks with the city government on how to resolve the issue and details of the refund arrangement would be announced by mid-March.

After the PR disaster erupted on Sunday, Messi addressed the widespread disappointment by explaining why he did not play in a news conference in Tokyo.

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He also said it was regrettable he could not play in Hong Kong on Chinese social media platform Weibo. He said in the post that he hoped to return to Hong Kong to play for his fans and go to mainland China to share the joy of football.