Lionel Messi in Hong Kong
Lionel Messi stayed on the bench throughout Inter Miami's 4-1 win against a Hong Kong select XI on February 4 AFP

SEATTLE - More than two weeks since Inter Miami's tour around Asia, Lionel Messi is still facing backlash from Chinese fans after the Argentine superstar missed a game in Hong Kong due to an adductor injury.

Although Messi missed the game due to injury, he was seen partaking in Inter Miami's friendly game in Japan just a few days later, causing significant discontent between Chinese soccer fans. State media outlet Global Times accused Messi and Inter Miami of skipping the game for "political motives" and "embarrassing" Hong Kong.

Close to 38,000 fans had filled up the Hong Kong Stadium on Feb. 4 to watch Messi and Inter Miami. According to Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's secretary of culture, sports and tourism, said government officials were told multiple times that Messi would be involved. But with 10 minutes left in the match, Inter Miami officials informed them of Messi's hamstring adductor injury, which would keep him off the field. "We immediately requested them to explore other remedies, such as Messi appearing on the field to interact with his fans and receiving the trophy," Yeung said. "Unfortunately, as you all see, this did not work out."

The fans that attended the game in Hong Kong booed and demanded refunds when Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham addressed the crowd at the end of the match. It is reported fans had to pay up to HK$4,880 ($624) to watch their idol up-close. They have been promised a 50% refund by match organizers Tatler Asia.

With all the backlash received, the Argentine decided to share his side of the story by uploading a video to the Chinese social media network Weibo, explaining why he had missed the game and flagged claims of his absence due to political reasons as "totally untrue." In the video, Messi highlighted the huge role Chinese fans have had throughout his career and said he has a "special affection" for the people in China. "Had that been the case, I wouldn't have even travelled to Japan or visited China as many times as I have," Messi added.

Amid all the backlash, Chinese officials cancelled two Argentina friendlies just a few days ago. Messi's Argentina team was set to face Nigeria in the city of Hangzhou and Africa Cup of Nations champions Ivory Coast in Beijing. With the matches scheduled to be played in March, it seems hard the Chinese government will change its stance on the matter.

Even though things have gotten messy, the Argentine's relationship with China seems far from over. Messi has been the spokesperson for big Chinese brands such as Huawei, Chery, J&T Express, Tencent and others, while the vast majority of the Chinese public still adore the 36-year-old. Last year, the "Messi mania" took over Beijing as Argentina and Messi faced Australia in a game in front of more than 68,000 "Messi" fans.

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