China have cancelled a friendly between Argentina and Nigeria next month as the backlash from Lionel Messi’s no-show in Hong Kong continues.
The 36-year-old was an unused substitute alongside Inter Miami teammate Luis Suarez in last week’s pre-season win against a Hong Kong XI.
Supporters booed Inter co-owner David Beckham and jeered throughout the match, as they chanted for the World Cup winner to grace the pitch.
The government of Hong Kong – a special administrative region of China – even voiced their frustration, with Messi forced to defend himself by stating a minor injury kept him out of action.
But after then playing against Vissel Kobe in Japan days later, Hangzhou sports authorities have stated that Argentina‘s clash with Nigeria – scheduled to take place in the city next month – has now been scrapped.
A statement read: “As a commercial event, a company and the Argentinean soccer team negotiated that the team would play a friendly match in March this year in the city of Hangzhou.
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“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.”
Speaking to the Association Press, an Argentina official stated he was aware that the game has been suspended, where he said: “It’s a sensitive matter.”
It is believed that Argentina will now look for another venue to face Nigeria.
Argentina are also due to face Ivory Coast – Nigeria’s opponents in Sunday’s Africa Cup of Nations final – in March, but it remains to be seen what happens regarding that fixture.
Tatler Asia, who organised Miami’s friendly at the Hong Kong Stadium last Sunday, are offering a 50 per cent refund on fans who attended the match.
And in a statement slamming the MLS outfit, they said: “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.
“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.”
Inter apologised in a statement to Reuters, where they declared: “Despite our best intentions, we understand there has been disappointment over the absence of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in Sunday’s match and we are sorry that the two players could not participate.
“We also recognize that the late decision caused frustration among our Hong Kong supporters and the event promoter, Tatler Asia.
“We do feel it necessary to express that injuries are unfortunately a part of the beautiful game, and our player’s health must always come first.”