Lionel Messi and Inter Miami have been accused of a “deliberate and calculated snub” against Hong Kong.
The Argentinian legend failed to appear in a pre-season friendly there, but has now played in Japan.
Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said Messi was not fit to play in Sunday’s game against a Hong Kong XI, which Inter won 4-1.
He did, however, come on as a 60th minute substitute against Japan’s Vissel Kobe on Wednesday. Inter lost 4-3 on penalties after the match finished 0-0.
The 36-year-old former Barcelona star’s apparent recovery from a hamstring injury has led to fury in Hong Kong.
One politician, Kenneth Fok, claimed the 36-year-old’s no-show had left football fans with “sprinkled salt wounds”, while another alleged people in Hong Kong now “hate” Messi.
Hong Kong’s Culture, Sports and Tourism Bureau said it was very disappointed that Messi did not play there.
“However, three days later, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan,” it added.
“The government hopes the organisers and teams can provide reasonable explanations.”
The Chinese state-controlled Global Times said the match in Hong Kong was the “only one in Messi’s six pre-season friendly matches on this trip where he was absent”.
It added: “The situation has magnified doubts and suspicions on the integrity of Inter Miami and Messi himself.”
Some fans travelled 12 hours from Xinjiang to Hong Kong to see Messi, the paper added.
“The impact of this incident has far exceeded the realm of sports,” it said.
Senior government adviser Regina Ip said on X: “Hong Kong people hate Messi, Inter-Miami, and the black hand behind them, for the deliberate and calculated snub to Hong Kong.
“Messi should never be allowed to return to Hong Kong. His lies and hypocrisy are disgusting.”
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Messi apologised to his Chinese fans on Weibo just ahead of the game on Wednesday.
“Anyone who knows me knows that I always want to play – especially in these games where we travel so far and people are excited to see our games,” he wrote in Chinese and Spanish.
“Hopefully we can come back and play a game in Hong Kong.”
There has been no comment from Inter Miami as yet. Sky News has asked them for comment.
Speaking after the match in Japan, Gerardo Martino said: “After practice on Tuesday evening, he (Messi) said he felt good and we agreed he would play 30 minutes.
“We are very content now after the game is over because Messi looked very comfortable.”
The match in Hong Kong drew 40,000 fans, with spectators paying up to £500 a ticket.
In Tokyo, entire blocks of seating at the Japan National Stadium were unoccupied, and just 28,614 tickets were sold.