The capital of China, Beijing, joined a growing number of cities on Saturday in postponing an Argentina friendly. Lionel Messi’s injury, missing last week’s match in Hong Kong, is starting to have a bigger impact.

With the declaration, the Beijing Football Association halted a friendly match between Ivory Coast and Argentina. “Beijing does not plan, for the moment, to organize the match in which Lionel Messi was to participate”.

It follows the cancellation of the Nigeria friendly by Hangzhou sports officials the day before. Lionel Messi’s absence prompted the cancellation of the friendly match between the two teams in the Chinese city.

Messi backlash grows

Messi and Inter Miami, his relatively new team, had been visiting Asia as part of their pre-season tour, before the Major League Soccer season starts later this month.

Around the same time Argetina, his national side were slated to play a series of lucrative friendlies.

The issue dates back to an Inter Miami friendly fixture played in Hong Kong.

The 36-year-old spent the whole match on the bench and did not play a single minute. The Argentine superstar had publicly declared his desire to play despite having a hamstring injury. But when he failed to appear, there was a backlash from the 40,000 sold-out spectators who had been anticipating the forward’s arrival on the pitch.

Fans who purchased tickets for the game in Hong Kong on February 4, organized by Tatler Asia, will get a 50 percent refund. Some of these tickets cost more than $640.

After Messi came off the bench for substitutions a few days later, the atmosphere continued to deteriorate. On the other hand, he saw only 30 minutes of action during a friendly match in Tokyo, Japan. Even more controversial was his half-hour appearance against Vissel Kobe of Japan, which many saw as a jab at China.

A number of nationalist Chinese politicians and media outlets voiced their concerns that the forward may have been ignoring Hong Kong. As a result, the phrase “medical miracle” quickly became popular on Chinese social media.

According to the Hong Kong administration, the ex-Barcelona great did this on purpose. “However, three days later, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan…the government hopes the organizers and teams can provide reasonable explanations”, they said.

Messi is unlikely to be welcomed back to China any time soon
Messi is unlikely to be welcomed back to China any time soon

Messi is unlikely to be welcomed back to China any time soon

Two potential new hosts

The Hangzhou Sports Bureau also released the following statement: “As a commercial event, a company negotiated with the Argentine football team to come to Hangzhou for a friendly match in March this year.

In view of the well-known reasons, it is understood from the competent authorities that the conditions for holding the event are not met, and the decision has been made to cancel the event.”

In January, the AFA confirmed that Argentina’s March international break trip to Asia would include matches against Nigeria in Hangzhou and the Ivory Coast in Beijing. Nonetheless, local authorities officially canceled the two matches.

An AFA insider who spoke with The Athletic confirmed the cancellation of the fixtures. They added that other Asian and American locations could be the new hosts for the two matches.

Photo credit: IMAGO / ANP