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Hong Kong officials ‘owed explanation’ as Inter Miami rest injured Lionel Messi

Hong Kong’s government have spoken of their ‘extreme disappointment’ after an injured Lionel Messi failed to appear in a sold-out game on Inter Miami’s pre-season tour. The MLS side beat a Hong Kong XI 4-1.

The Argentinian 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 organisers’ arrangement. The organisers owe all football fans an explanation,” the government said in a statement on Sunday.

Inter Miami coach Tata Martino defended the decision, saying that the eight-time Ballon D’Or winner, as well as former Barcelona colleague Luis Suárez 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 the Miami co-owner David Beckham.

“We understand the disappointment of the fans for the absence of Leo [Messi] and Luis Suárez,” 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 from 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.

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In Hong Kong, Robert Taylor opened the scoring for Miami five minutes before the break with a curling shot from the corner of the area, but Henri Anier quickly levelled for the hosts, led by national team coach Jørn Andersen. Lawson Sunderland then restored Miami’s lead early in the second half and, after 56 minutes, provided the assist for Leonardo Campana, who made it 3-1. Ryan Sailor headed a fourth for Miami five minutes from the end.

Miami’s Asian tour finishes in Japan on Wednesday with a game against Vissel Kobe.

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