Lionel Messi explains Hong Kong no-show in video to fans as backlash grows

Lionel Messi has tried to explain his failure to play in a friendly match in Hong Kong in a video on Chinese social media - in response to a growing backlash over his absence.

Messi stayed on the bench for the duration of Inter Miami's exhibition match against a local team last week due to a groin injury.

He played in Japan days after that no-show, angering his Chinese fanbase and authorities.

In a video posted on Weibo, he appealed directly to his fans in mainland China and Hong Kong, saying his absence was not due to political reasons.

"I've read and heard many things that have been said after the game in Hong Kong. I wanted to record this video and give you the true version so nobody has to continue reading false stories," he said.

"I've heard people say that I didn't want to play for political reasons and many other reasons that are totally untrue.

"Had that been the case I wouldn't have even travelled to Japan or visited China, as I have many times.

"Since the start of my career I've had a very close and special relationship with China."

The 36-year-old repeated the reason for his absence from the highly anticipated game - tickets for which cost up to 4,880 Hong Kong dollars (£500) each.

"As I said in the press conference, I had an inflamed adductor and I couldn't play in the first game in Saudi Arabia, which is when I felt it," he said.

"In the second game I tried to play for a bit, but it got worse. Then on the day before the game [in Hong Kong] I tried to train and made an effort for all those who had come to watch training.

"It felt a bit better a few days later and that's why I played for a bit in Japan to prepare fitness-wise for everything to come because I needed to play and get back up to speed."

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Organisers of the Hong Kong friendly, Tatler Asia, announced a 50% refund on tickets following criticism from the Hong Kong government.

In an editorial, the Chinese state-backed nationalist tabloid Global Times suggested Messi and Inter Miami had "political motives" and that "external forces" were trying to embarrass Hong Kong.

The Argentinian footballer is considered to be one of the greatest players of all time - perhaps even the best ever. In 2022, he won the World Cup with Argentina. He has also won the Ballon d'Or, an annual award for that year's best player, eight times.

After the no-show in Hong Kong, Beijing Football Association cancelled Argentina's friendly against Ivory Coast, which was scheduled to be held in the Chinese capital in March.

Hangzhou's sports authorities also cancelled a friendly between Argentina and Nigeria.