After failing to win any of their first four preseason games, Inter Miami finally registered victory as they beat Hong Kong XI 4-1 on Sunday, but star attraction Lionel Messi’s absence prompted the country’s government to express its disappointment.

The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, who is reportedly struggling with a hamstring injury, was not included in Inter Miami’s matchday squad despite Head Coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino telling a news conference on Friday that Messi was “likely” to feature in the game.

Martino also elected to leave the team’s three other former Barcelona stars – Sergio Busquets, Luis Suárez and Jordi Alba – on the bench from the start in Hong Kong.

Spectators chanted “refund” and the Hong Kong government said the match organizers, Tatler Asia, may face a reduction in funding after Messi stayed on the bench during the match.

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

“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,” they said.

“The MSEC 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.”

Lionel Messi watched the match from the Inter Miami bench after he was not included in the matchday squad.

Fred Lee/Getty Images

The organisers said they expected Messi and Suarez to play and were extremely disappointed that they did not feature in the match.

“Despite some news reports, Tatler did not have any information about the non-participation of Messi or Suarez prior to kick off.

“Messi and Suarez were deemed unfit to play by their team’s medical department, to everyone’s, including our disappointment,” they said in a statement.

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