Feb. 9 (UPI) -- Fans who bought tickets hoping to see Lionel Messi play in a friendly match in China will be refunded their money after the Inter Miami star was surprisingly held out of the game against Hong Kong XI, organizers said Friday.
The absence of the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner resulted in obvious displeasure from the crowd of 40,000 that attended the game Sunday at Hong Kong Stadium, with some chanting "refund" and booing the Herons. Messi sported street clothes and never left the sideline.
"We apologize to all those who were disappointed by the football match between the Hong Kong Team and Inter Miami CF on Sunday," Tatler Asia wrote in a statement posted to Instagram.
"An event that we had hoped to be the pride of the city, and which we have worked very hard on for months, has become the source of great heartbreak."
Inter Miami beat Hong Kong XI 4-1 on Sunday at Hong Kong Stadium. Tatler Asia said organizers signed a contract with Inter Miami, stating that Messi and other key players would be required to play at least 45 minutes in the match, unless they were injured.
The organizers said that Inter Miami them at halftime that Messi would not play because of a hip injury. Fellow Herons stars Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets played in the second half, while striker Luis Suarez also missed the match.
Suarez, Messi, Busquets and Alba all played just three days later in the Herons' friendly against Vissel Kobe on Wednesday in Japan. The J1 league club beat the Herons in a penalty kick shootout.
Messi told reporters Tuesday that he was unable to play in China because of hip discomfort.
Tatler Asia said it also was upset by a "lack of respect" Messi and Inter Miami showed to the crowd at the friendly. The organizers said, after they were informed Messi would not play, that they "pleaded with Inter Miami ownership and management" to get the star player to engage with spectators, but he did not.
The organizers also said that Inter Miami's decision to play Suarez and Messi on Wednesday was a "slap in the face."
The Hong Kong government said Sunday that it was deeply disappointed by Messi's absence from the game. On Sunday, Inter Miami issued an apology for "the late decision" to play without Messi and Suarez.
"We have been in discussions with the government to resolve the issue," Tatler Asia said. "We also invited the consumer council to participate in the talks.
"We will not escape our responsibility as organizers and that is why Tatler Asia will offer all those who purchased match-day tickets from the official channels a 50% refund. Details about the refund process will be provided in a separate communication by mid-March."
The Herons will host Argentina's Newell's Old Boys in another friendly on Thursday in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
"It's a shame because I always want to participate, especially when we traveled so far and the people were so excited to see us," Messi told reporters Tuesday in Tokyo.
"Hopefully we can return and play another game in Hong Kong, the way I always do when I can. It was a shame."