Chinese sports authorities cancel Argentina vs Nigeria friendly amid backlash over LIONEL MESSI's failure to play for Inter Miami in Hong Kong

Friday, February 9, 2024
 – Chinese sporting authorities have cancelled next month's friendly international between Argentina and Nigeria over Lionel Messi's failure to play in an Inter Miami friendly match in Hong Kong last week.

Argentina were scheduled to play Nigeria in the Chinese city of Hangzhou next month before facing the Ivory Coast in Beijing, but Messi's failure to take to the field for Inter Miami in Hong Kong on Sunday sparked outrage among fans.

The organiser of the Hong Kong match said they would give fans a 50% refund for tickets after the former Barcelona star did not take the field during their 4-1 win against Hong Kong All-Stars due to injury, but played in Japan days later.

On Friday, Hangzhou sports authorities announced that Argentina's friendly against Nigeria would no longer take place.

'As a commercial event, a company and the Argentinian soccer team negotiated that the team would play a friendly match in March this year in the city of Hangzhou,' the Hangzhou authorities said in a statement.

"In view of the current well-known reasons, according to the competent authorities, conditions to hold the friendly match are not mature, therefore (we) have decided to cancel it."

Tatler Asia, a privately owned publishing and lifestyle company, said in a statement on its Instagram page that it was "deeply sorry" and "heartbroken" that fans were let down after Messi stayed on the bench during Sunday's match.

The match in Hong Kong drew 40,000 fans, with some spectators paying up to nearly HK$5,000 ($640) per ticket.

The cost of all match tickets bought from official channels can be 50% refunded, Tatler said, adding that it had been in discussions with the Hong Kong government to resolve the issue.

Inter Miami head coach Gerardo "Tata" Martino said Messi was deemed unfit to play in the friendly in Hong Kong, but he came on as a 60th minute substitute against Vissel Kobe on Wednesday.

"When we learned that Messi would not be playing, we pleaded with Inter Miami CF ownership and management to urge him to stand up, engage with the spectators and explain why he couldn't play," Tatler said.

"He didn't. The fact that Messi and (team mate Luis) Suarez played in Japan on Feb. 7 feels like another slap in the face."

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