The relationship between Lionel Messi and the Hong Kong government has been strained recently due to his absence from a friendly match against a Hong Kong XI on Sunday.
"Messimania" had captured Hong Kong with Inter Miami's arrival on Friday as fans swarmed the Major League Soccer team's hotel.
Some 40,000 fans then flocked to Hong Kong Stadium for Saturday's training session, chanting "Messi! Messi! Messi!" and holding aloft copies of his number 10 jersey.
Meanwhile, the stadium reached full capacity in the hope of seeing Messi in action for Sunday's friendly game, but the Argentine superstar did not play due to what was reported as an adductor injury.
Fans went home deflated after Messi stayed on the bench, missing his side's 4-1 victory over a Hong Kong XI.
Miami head coach Gerardo Martino said the decision not to field Messi was made on very late notice.
Well, Leo has swelling in the adductor [muscle], when we sat down with the medical team they voiced their view that it was very risky for this footballer to play today.
Uruguayan striker Luis Suárez was seen warming up shortly, whilst Messi remained on the bench the entire game.
In Luis' case, he has a problem with his knee. He woke up swollen after the second match in [Saudi] Arabia. So he wasn't fit for today's match.
We understand the disappointment from the crowd who came to the stadium today that Leo and Luis were absent.
The eight-time Ballon d'Or winner featured heavily in pre-match advertising and many fans demanded a refund due to his lack of game time.
In the hours after the game, the Hong Kong government issued a strongly-worded statement criticising the organisers and suggested that part of the agreed payment could be withdrawn after Messi did not make it onto the field.
INTER MIAMI BOOED OFF THE FIELD IN CHINA 😡— World Soccer Talk (@worldsoccertalk) February 4, 2024
The mood in Hong Kong turned sour after Messi didn't play in the #InterMiamiCF friendly. 40,000 fans chanted "Refund refund refund" and "Where is Messi?" (who sat on the bench). Beckham also booed post-match.pic.twitter.com/gjnbEfSRUr
Regarding Messi not playing the match today, the Government, as well as all football fans, are extremely disappointed about the organisers' arrangement. The organiser owes all football fans an explanation.
The MSEC [Major Sports Events Committee] will take follow-up actions with the organiser according to the terms and conditions, which includes reducing the amount of funding as a result of Messi not playing the match.