Argentina tour of China called off following Lionel Messi backlash

The March friendlies against Nigeria and Ivory Coast could be played elsewhere

TOKYO, JAPAN - FEBRUARY 07: Lionel Messi of Inter Miami in action during the preseason friendly match between Vissel Kobe and Inter Miami at National Stadium on February 07, 2024 in Tokyo, Japan. (Photo by Kenta Harada/Getty Images)

Argentina's two planned friendlies in March in China have been called off after Lionel Messi failed to play in last weekend's game between Inter Miami and a Hong Kong XI.

Hangzhou sports authorities canceled the Argentina-Nigeria friendly on Friday, and that was followed by Saturday's announcement from the Beijing Football Association that the second game against Ivory Coast will not not played.

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

Messi sat out Sunday's friendly against the Hong Kong XI due to an adductor injury. That led to outrage among fans in attendance, as well as the government. The organizers of the event and Inter Miami both released statements apologizing for Messi's absence.

Event organizers said they were guaranteed that Messi, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquet and Luis Suárez would play at least 45 minutes of the game unless they were injured. Suárez was also hurt and did not play.

Tatler Asia, who put on the friendly, announced Friday that fans will receive 50% refunds.

Messi did finish Inter Miami's Asian tour by playing 30 minutes against Vissel Kobe on Wednesday in Tokyo.

While they won't be played in China during the March international break, the games against Nigeria and Ivory Coast could still be played. A source told Felipe Cardenas of The Athletic that the Argentinian Football Association will look into different locations to hold the friendlies.