Hong Kong is disappointed by Lionel Messi and David Beckham

Lionel Messi was benched at a much-anticipated match in Hong Kong, and fans aren't happy.

Hong Kong is disappointed by Lionel Messi and David Beckham
Soccer Football - Friendly - Hong Kong v Inter Miami - Hong Kong Stadium, Hong Kong - February 4, 2024 Inter Miami's Lionel Messi, Sergio Busquets and teammates sit on the substitute bench during the match REUTERS/Lam Yik

The backstory: Post-COVID, Hong Kong has been trying to restore its reputation as a world-class center and financial hub while increasing spending to boost its economy. Hong Kong Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism Kevin Yeung Yun-hung recently pledged to take steps to attract bigger music artists to the city after Taylor Swift and Coldplay skipped over Hong Kong, performing in Singapore instead. The city's also begun to pave its way into attracting the fashion industry, with Pharell Williams' Louis Vuitton Pre-Fall Men's Fashion Show in December featuring the iconic Hong Kong skyline as a backdrop. The city has also secured Dior's Pre-Fall Men's Show, which is set to take place on March 23.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong officials scored a match between Inter Miami and Hong Kong's premier league team for Sunday, February 4, at Hong Kong Stadium. Inter Miami is co-owned by British football legend David Beckham, with Argentinian football star Lionel Messi and Uruguayan player Luis Suárez on the team. People in the city were super pumped to see Messi play, with Inter Miami kits flying off the shelves of local stores and fans putting down chunks of money for tickets to the match.

The development: The high anticipation of Messi's match in Hong Kong led to more than 38,000 tickets sold in December, costing between HK$880 (US$112) and HK$4,480 (US$572) each. Hong Kongers swarmed into the stadium to see this long-awaited match against the local team, but fans were shockingly disappointed, to say the least, after Messi was benched for the entire match on medical advice. Messi wasn't the only player fans missed. Suárez, one of the best players of his generation and former Barcelona star, didn't appear on the pitch for the same reason.

Fans booed Inter Miami as they collected their winner's trophy. David Beckham didn't escape the anger either, as during his speech, many spectators chanted "refund." Although fans' disappointment was acknowledged during a press conference after the match, we're not entirely sure how it will be dealt with.

Key comments:

"I flew from Melbourne for this. We waited a long time, but he never showed up," said Marco Hu Kun-ming. "I'm really disappointed."

"I bought all the merch just to support Messi. I know Messi only appeared for seven minutes in a recent game," Tommy Li said. "But just one or two minutes would be enough for me."

"I've been waiting almost 10 years to see him," Total Ling Pak said. "This is a rare opportunity to see him because he might be retiring soon. We are very disappointed."

"We understand fans are very disappointed and we ask for their forgiveness. We wish we could have sent them onto the pitch for a while to play, but the risk was too big," said Inter Miami's head coach, Gerardo Martino. 

"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," said a statement from the match organizer, Tatler XFEST Hong Kong. "Despite some news reports, Tatler did not have any information about the non-participation of Messi or Suárez prior to kick off. Messi and Suárez were deemed unfit to play by their team's medical department, to everyone's, including ours, disappointment."