• Lionel Messi was expected to play in a recent preseason friendly
  • The game was meant to be a major crowd pleaser with Messi starting
  • THIS is what actually happened

Hong Kong's soccer scene was left in disbelief as Lionel Messi failed to grace the pitch in what was billed as a blockbuster match! The city's stadium, packed with 40,000 hopeful fans, buzzed with anticipation only to be met with a wave of disappointment. It was arguably the biggest thing to happen to Hong Kong in recent times, outside of the politics of couse!

Messi made many cry

Some supporters shelled out a whopping $624 for a glimpse of the World Cup winner, but alas, Messi remained glued to the bench during Inter Miami's 4-1 triumph over a local Hong Kong XI. The pre-match hype was all about Messi, and the fans didn't hold back their frustration, chanting for refunds as the final whistle blew. And of course it would be.

Messi was recently named FIFA's The Best, for some reason, as he is the captain of the world champions after all. Nevertheless, his legacy before Miam was enough to draw a crowd. But these folks were severely disappointed. The Hong Kong government, having forked out over $2 million in grants, echoed the sentiment, expressing their "extreme disappointment" at the no-show.

In a dramatic turn of events, Hong Kong's Secretary for Culture, Sports and Tourism, Kevin Yeung, revealed in a news conference that the government's contract with the match organizer, Tatler XFEST, stipulated a minimum of 45 minutes of Messi magic, barring any safety or fitness issues.

The plot thickens as the government reached out mid-game, only to learn of Messi's potential injury woes. The confirmation of his benching came just 10 minutes before the game's end. Desperate for a silver lining, officials urged the organizers to coax Messi into at least mingling with his fans or partaking in the trophy ceremony – to no avail.

Whatever will happen?

"The Government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed that Messi could neither play in the friendly match, nor explain to the fans in person upon request," Hong Kong’s government said in a statement on Sunday. Hong Kong leader John Lee was among the officials who attended the match.

The saga also angered local pro-Beijing lawmakers. "This is outrageous!" lawmaker Dominic Lee wrote on Facebook. "Messi’s no-show has left many visitors disappointed with bad memories . . . [and] damaged the city’s reputation as a tourism spot." After the Hong Kong government said it would review HK$16mn in public funding promised for the match, organiser Tatler Asia said it was withdrawing its application for the money.

Tatler Asia had told the government ahead of the match that Messi would play in the second half, Hong Kong’s culture, sports and tourism minister Kevin Yeung told reporters on Monday. The government was later told he “could not play due to injury”, after which it suggested Messi could greet fans on the pitch, Yeung said, but this did not work out.

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Gerardo "Tata" Martino, Miami's coach, cited a last-minute injury as the reason for Messi's absence from the field and said it was too risky for him to play. But the fans were having none of it. "We do feel a bit scammed," lamented Ada Kam, a fan who, like many, felt duped by the promise of seeing Messi play.

Tatler XFEST, the match organizer, joined the chorus of disappointment, claiming to be in the dark about Messi and Luis Suárez's non-participation until the eleventh hour.

Despite the uproar, Messi's charm remains undeniable, with fans camping outside Inter Miami's hotel for one last peek at the legend before his departure to Tokyo. With rumors of Messi's return to China for friendly matches in March, fans are left wondering if they'll get another chance to see the maestro in action – or if it's just another round of heartbreak waiting to happen.