Inter Miami have apologised for Lionel Messi’s inability to play an exhibition game in Hong Kong, a late decision that infuriated fans and disappointed organisers but one the Major League Soccer club deemed necessary.

Argentine Messi, record eight-times Ballon D’Or winner, did not warm up in front of the 40,000 fans in Hong Kong Stadium on Sunday as he was being assessed by medical staff who decided it was too risky for him and team mate Luis Suarez to play.

“Despite our best intentions, we understand there has been disappointment over the absence of Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez in Sunday’s match and we are sorry that the two players could not participate,” Miami said in a statement sent to Reuters on Thursday.

“We also recognize that the late decision caused frustration among our Hong Kong supporters and the event promoter, Tatler Asia. We do feel it necessary to express that injuries are unfortunately a part of the beautiful game, and our player’s health must always come first.”

Miami said that with regard to Messi and Suarez, they wanted to make a game-time decision so it offered the largest window to allow for the chance they could be made available for selection.

Three days later, 36-year-old Messi came on in the 60th minute in Inter Miami’s friendly against J-League side Vissel Kobe in Tokyo where entire blocks of seating at the Japan National Stadium remained unoccupied, with only 28,614 tickets sold.

Spectators at the soldout Hong Kong game, which Miami won 4-1 over a local League XI, chanted “refund”, while the Hong Kong government said match organisers Tatler Asia may face a reduction in funding.

The Major Sports Events Committee (MSEC) had granted HK$15 million ($1.92 million) for the event along with a HK$1 million grant for the venue, the government said in a statement.

Inter Miami said they would be eager to return to Hong Kong should the fans be open to receiving the club again.

“Players get injured in football and this is no one’s fault. It is one part of the beautiful game that is cruel, and impacted our visit to Hong Kong on this occasion,” Miami said.

“As we continue to consume the headlines and negativity towards the different stakeholders, we felt compelled to reiterate the reality of these types of sports injuries.” REUTERS

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