Lionel Messi defends Hong Kong absence after fans boo

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Forward Lionel Messi has taken a stand in response to criticism from local fans after he was unable to participate in a pre-season friendly in Hong Kong with Inter Miami.

Inter defeated a League XI 4-1 in front of nearly 40,000 fans on Sunday, with Argentina’s captain Messi remaining on the bench due to a hamstring issue.

The Hong Kong government stipulated that Messi was obligated to play for at least 45 minutes.

“I always want to play, especially in these games where we travel so far and people want to see our games,” he said.

“Unfortunately this happens in football. In any game it can happen that you can’t play.

“I hope we can return and play a game in Hong Kong.”

Each ticket sold to the nearly full 38,323 spectators at Hong Kong Stadium cost more than HK$1,000 (£101).

“We want Messi” was chanted throughout the second half while the World Cup winner continued to be seated among the substitutes.

Chants of “Refund” followed his failure to appear on the field, and as Inter co-owner David Beckham attempted to thank supporters during a speech following full time, jeers drowned him out.

The Major Sports Events Committee (MSEC) of the Hong Kong government expressed its “great disappointment” that Messi was unable to participate, given that Tatler Asia, the event’s organizer, had received funding totaling HK$16 million (£1.5 million).

Given that Messi did not play, Tatler Asia stated that it will not request the money.

Last Thursday, during Miami’s game against Saudi Arabia, Messi in as a substitute with six minutes remaining. However, a scan performed after the game revealed that Messi’s hamstring had swelled.

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, 36, stated that his injury is getting better and that he might play on Wednesday in Tokyo against Vissel Kobe, the Japanese champions.

“I don’t know if I can or not, but I feel a lot better and really want to do it,” he said.

“This afternoon we’re going to practise; we’ll try again. I have a good feeling, compared to how I was.”