The anticipation surrounding Lionel Messi's appearance in a friendly match in Hong Kong quickly turned to disappointment and outrage as the Argentine football star was sidelined due to an injury. Fans, nearly 40,000 strong, had filled the Hong Kong Stadium to capacity, eager to witness the football maestro's magic on the field as his team, Inter Miami CF, faced off against a selection of top players from the local league. However, Messi, who had only played seven minutes in a previous match against Al Nassr, was deemed unfit to play due to a hamstring injury, leaving fans chanting for a glimpse of the legend to no avail.

The situation was exacerbated by the absence of Uruguayan star Luis Suarez, another big draw for the match, who was also sidelined with a knee injury. The combined absence of both Messi and Suarez, who have a storied history together from their time at FC Barcelona, left fans feeling shortchanged, with many calling for refunds as they had shelled out approximately £101 or HK$1,000 on average for a ticket.

The controversy reached a boiling point when David Beckham, co-owner of Inter Miami and a football legend in his own right, attempted to address the crowd post-match. His efforts to thank the fans were met with boos and protests, a clear indication of the crowd's frustration and disappointment.

The Hong Kong government, which had expectations based on contractual obligations that Messi would play at least 45 minutes, expressed its dissatisfaction with the turn of events. Kevin Yeung, Hong Kong's secretary for culture, sports, and tourism, highlighted the lack of transparency from Inter Miami regarding Messi's fitness. The revelation that the government was only informed of Messi's inability to play ten minutes before the match's conclusion has led to demands for an explanation from the event organizers, Tatler Asia.

In response to the fiasco, Tatler Asia has withdrawn its application for a government grant earmarked for the event, amounting to 16 million Hong Kong dollars. Michel Lamuniere, chairman and CEO of Tatler Asia, expressed regret over the disappointing end to what was supposed to be an exciting occasion, citing a last-minute decision by Inter Miami's medical team regarding Messi and Suarez's fitness.

As Inter Miami continues its pre-season tour in Tokyo, with a scheduled match against Vissel Kobe, Messi offered a glimmer of hope to fans. At a news conference, he shared his improved condition, though he remained non-committal about his participation in the upcoming game. Messi's desire to play and engage with fans, especially after traveling such great distances, underscores the unfortunate timing of his injury in Hong Kong.

The tour, which aimed to showcase Inter Miami and its star players to an international audience, has been marred by disappointing performances and the overshadowing controversy in Hong Kong. As the team looks to move forward, the focus will be on reconciling with disappointed fans and ensuring the health and safety of its players.