China has cancelled two football matches featuring Lionel Messi’s Argentina amid the growing backlash in the country against the World Cup-winning captain.
Messi has been on the receiving end of criticism after he did not come off the bench for his Major League Soccer (MLS) club Inter Miami during an exhibition match in Hong Kong on February 4.
A massive crowd of almost 40,000 fans attended the game in Hong Kong, in the hope of watching Messi, one of the biggest superstars in the game. But the game ended bitterly for many. Fuming with anger, the fans booed, jeered and demanded refunds as the former Barcelona forward did not play that day.
Messi failed to appear on the pitch despite repeated requests from the Hong Kong government and organizer, Tatler Asia, for him to get on the field, according to various media reports.
The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner later on revealed that he wanted to play in Hong Kong but was forced to sit out due to an injury. But that has not stopped the flak heading his way on the Chinese internet.
Meanwhile, when Inter Miami played in Japan in the subsequent game on Feb. 7, Messi played for 30 minutes. His appearance against Vissel Kobe at Japan National Stadium in Tokyo only further infuriated Chinese fans, with many – including pro-Beijing politicians in Hong Kong – terming it an insult to China.
The latest indication of the Chinese people still being upset with Messi came on Friday when sports authorities in Beijing and Hangzhou announced they would no longer host the two friendly matches the Argentina side was scheduled to play in March.
Messi-led Argentina were due to face off against Nigeria at the Hangzhou Olympic Sports Center. On Friday, the sports bureau in Hangzhou cancelled the Argentina-Nigeria friendly.
“Because of the reasons known to all, we’ve learned from supervising authorities that the conditions are immature for the match to go forward. Now it’s been decided that the match will be cancelled,” the Hangzhou Sports Bureau announced on its official social media account, according to reports in the local media.
Ivory Coast, the latest Africa Cup of Nations (AFCN) champions, were also scheduled to play against Argentina at the Beijing Workers’ Sport Complex. However, the Beijing Football Association announced the cancellation of the game.
“Recently, many fans and netizen friends have asked about Messi’s game in Beijing. Beijing currently has no plans to host relevant competitions in which Messi will participate,” the football authority said in a statement to local media.