Hong Kong soccer fans and the government expressed their disappointment on Sunday as Lionel Messi stayed on the bench for the full 90 minutes while Inter Miami defeated a Hong Kong XI 4-1 in the latest stop on the MLS team's preseason Asian tour.
The Argentine has a hamstring strain and did not play as fans, who snapped up more than 38,000 tickets within an hour of them going on sale in December, could be heard booing in the late stages of the game and at the final whistle.
"Regarding Messi not playing the match today, the government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed about the organizers' arrangement. The organizers owe all football fans an explanation," the government said in a statement on Sunday.
Organizers Tatler XFEST Hong Kong later expressed their "extreme disappointment regarding Lionel Messi and Luis Suárez's non-participation (in the game) ... We, alongside all football fans who attended that match, had been eagerly anticipating Messi's and Suárez's participation and share in the disappointment felt by everyone watching.
"Despite some news reports, Tatler did not have any information about the non-participation of Messi or Suárez prior to kickoff."
Inter Miami coach Gerardo Martino defended the decision, saying that the eight-time Ballon D'Or winner, as well as former Barcelona colleague Suarez, who also stayed on the bench, could not be risked.
Fans who filled the same arena a day earlier at least saw the 2022 World Cup winner in an open training session along with Miami co-owner David Beckham.
"We understand the disappointment of the fans for the absence of Leo (Messi) and Luis Suarez," Martino said. "We understand a lot of fans are very disappointed, and we ask for their forgiveness. We wish we could have sent Leo and Luis on for at least a while, but the risk was too big."
Despite the fans' frustration, it was a better performance for Miami after a 6-0 thrashing by Saudi Arabia's Al-Nassr in Riyadh on Thursday. Messi played the final seven minutes of that losing effort.
Robert Taylor opened the scoring for Miami five minutes before the break with a curling shot from the corner of the area. Henri Anier quickly leveled for the hosts, led by national team coach Jorn Andersen.
Lawson Sunderland restored Miami's lead early in the second half and then, after 56 minutes, provided the assist for Leonardo Campana, who made it 3-1. Ryan Sailor headed a fourth five minutes from the end.
Miami finishes its Asian tour in Japan on Wednesday as it takes on Vissel Kobe.