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Lionel Messi China row could force Argentina into friendly location switch

Argentina’s March friendlies in China versus Nigeria and Ivory Coast could be moved amid the ongoing row around Lionel Messi’s controversial no-show in Hong Kong.

The world champions were slated to embark on an Asia tour during the March FIFA window, but the fallout from Messi’s failure to appear during Inter Miami’s recent stop in Hong Kong has now forced the Argentina Football Association (AFA) to consider other venues.

AFA announced in January that Argentina would face Nigeria in Hangzhou and Ivory Coast in Beijing. However, the political climate in China has since turned on Messi.

A source at AFA with knowledge of the situation told The Athletic on Friday that the federation has not made official plans to cancel the games in China and that talks are ongoing in order to face the same opponents elsewhere.

(PETER PARKS/AFP via Getty Images)

The Hong Kong government expressed their disappointment after Messi did not play against the Hong Kong XI last Sunday. The reigning Ballon d’Or winner was ruled out of the match with an adductor injury. On Wednesday, Messi played 30 minutes against Vissel Kobe in Tokyo, which was deemed a “deliberate and calculated snub” by the Hong Kong government.

“However three days later, Messi was able to play actively and freely in Japan…the government hopes the organizers and teams can provide reasonable explanations.”

The promoters who organized the match in Hong Kong, Tatler Asia, said in a statement that the 40,000 fans who attended the Inter Miami match last Sunday would be entitled to a 50 percent refund. Inter Miami will play one more friendly match on February 15 in Fort Lauderdale against Newell’s Old Boys, Messi’s childhood club.

The MLS regular season begins six days later, with Inter Miami facing Real Salt Lake at DRK PNK Stadium.

(Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images)

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