Wednesday, February 21, 2024

‘No plans’ for games involving Messi after Hong Kong row: Beijing football body

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Mainland China’s sports authorities appear to have ruled out an appearance by Lionel Messi next month after the Argentine football star’s earlier no-show for a Hong Kong friendly match with his club side Inter Miami.

The Argentina national squad, captained by Messi, last month scheduled a tour of China during the international break from March 18-26, which included friendly matches with Nigeria in Hangzhou and against Ivory Coast in Beijing.

But the Beijing Football Association, which oversees football in the capital city, said on Saturday that it had “no plans at the moment to host any matches involving Messi”.

The association added that it had spoken out after queries from football fans about possible appearances by Messi in March.

Inter Miami star Lionel Messi leaves a Vissel Kobe player floundering in his wake in a friendly game in Tokyo. Photo: Kyodo

The Saturday social media post came a day after the Hangzhou Municipal Sports Bureau announced the cancellation of the friendly match between Argentina and Nigeria for reasons “known by everyone”.

News agency the Associated Press said a source had told it that the Argentine Football Association said it was a “sensitive matter”, had already acknowledged the cancellation and was looking for another venue for the match.

An Argentine sports newspaper earlier reported that the match scheduled for Hangzhou would instead be played in the United States.

It added that the change would allow players to better adapt to the climate before the Copa America was held in the US in June.

A much-hyped exhibition match between Messi’s Inter Miami and a city select at the Hong Kong Stadium sparked jeers and demands for refunds after Messi, captain of the US club, part-owned by ex-England football star David Beckham, failed to take to the pitch because of injury.

Partial refund for Messi Hong Kong match does not go far enough, analysts say

City politicians and mainland Chinese newspaper the Global Times earlier interpreted Messi’s absence for the 4-1 win for Inter Miami, but his participation in a similar match in Tokyo just days later, as a “calculated snub” and a “political move to embarrass” Hong Kong.

Social media users in mainland China and Argentina had different views about Messi’s expected absence from the Argentine squad next month – if the Beijing game goes ahead at all.

An Argentine influencer said those who blamed the footballer for his no-show in Hong Kong “didn’t deserve to watch Messi”.

“It’s their problem if they failed to understand that Messi could not play because of injury,” the user, called “All About Argentina”, said.

“Instead of blaming Beckham and Inter Miami for bad communication, the grown men are blaming Messi, who was injured.”

Mainland China cancels planned Messi match after Hong Kong fiasco

But another internet user from the mainland’s Sichuan province said she would convince people around her not to watch matches involving Messi.

“China can live without Messi and even the Argentine football team,” she said. “But it has only one Hong Kong.

“Resolutely resist those blaspheming China’s dignity. Get lost!”

Tatler Asia, the organiser of the controversial Hong Kong fixture, on Friday announced a 50 per cent refund for disappointed fans amid increasing pressure from officials and the public.

Details of the refund plan will be released in March.

The luxury lifestyle brand said earlier it would withdraw an application for HK$16 million (US$2.05 million) in the Hong Kong government’s funding for staging the match.

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