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SOCCER

Why has China canceled friendly with Messi’s Argentina?

Two proposed international fixtures have been scrapped amid the fallout from Lionel Messi’s Hong Kong no-show.

Update:
What injury does Lionel Messi have?
LUIS ROBAYOAFP

It’s beginning to look as if Lionel Messi will never again return to China. Inter Miami’s preseason fixture in Hong Kong was overshadowed by Messi’ absence and the subsequent fallout has made the Argentine persona non grata in the region.

The latest development has seen Chinese officials cancel two upcoming international friendlies involving Argentina. The World Cup holders were scheduled to play against Nigeria in Hangzhou and the Ivory Coast in Beijing in March.

The games appear to have been cancelled due to a perceived slight from Messi, who did not feature in Hong Kong but did manage 30 minutes for the Herons against Vissel Kobe three days later.

“Beijing does not plan, for the moment, to organise the match in which Lionel Messi was to participate,” the Beijing Football Association said.

What injury does Lionel Messi have?

Inter Miami have been fairly vague about the injury suffered by Lionel Messi. The 36-year-old was absent from the starting XI against Al-Nassr last week and was only able to feature for the final minutes in Saudi Arabia.

Messi was said to have been suffering from a slight hamstring issue, although the extent of the problem was not clear. The Argentine was able to take part in an open training session in front of packed crowds in Hong Kong but was deemed unable to feature in the subsequent friendly.

Lionel Messi did not leave the substitutes' bench for the sell-out fixture in Hong Kong.
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Lionel Messi did not leave the substitutes' bench for the sell-out fixture in Hong Kong.PETER PARKSAFP

He was back in the squad for the Vissel Kobe fixture but admitted that he felt exhausted from Miami’s extensive preseason schedule. His Hong Kong absence may simply have been a mini break for his body at the start of a busy 2024.

Why is Lionel Messi getting more injuries?

After two decades as a professional, it should be no surprise that Messi’s body is starting to feel the effects of a career at the very top. In the past year the Argentine has looked increasingly susceptible to muscle complaints.

After making a lightening-fast start to life in Miami, firing them to the Leagues Cup, Messi sustained a hamstring issue last September and missed a key run of games for the Herons. Without their captain Miami’s mid-season momentum was stymied and they dropped out of playoff contention.

It has taken him some time to get up to speed in preseason but Miami head coach Tata Martino is sounding optimistic with Messi’s progress.

“After yesterday’s training session, Leo told me he felt good and we made the decision to put him in for 30 minutes,” Martino said after the Vissel Kobe game. “He was happy after the game because he said he felt comfortable there.”