- Argentinian and his teammates arrive by private jet from Riyadh for a three-day visit, during which they will play a match at Hong Kong Stadium
- They were set to head to their hotel at Ocean Park, where they are scheduled to give a press conference
Lionel Messi disembarks in Hong Kong on Friday after flying to the city with his club Inter Miami. Photo: Sam Tsang
Lionel Messi’s long-awaited visit to Hong Kong has finally arrived after the footballer and his Inter Miami teammates touched down in the city.
The team’s private jet arrived at Hong Kong International Airport at about 2.30pm local time on Friday, from Riyadh, where they had played two matches against Saudi clubs.
A welcome ceremony scheduled for 2pm was pushed back an hour on account of the plane’s adjusted arrival time, caused by delays at the airport in Riyadh.
When the door to the plane opened in Hong Kong, Messi’s bodyguard Yassine Cheuko was positioned at the entrance. Messi descended the stairs onto the tarmac carrying two drinks bottles and his suitcase, with Cheuko remaining close behind the Argentinian at all times.
The Miami players and staff assembled on a red and pink stage positioned by the plane and were presented with a bouquet of flowers by a local 𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘥. There was then confusion as the master of ceremonies, who was using both English and Cantonese, asked the squad to stay for further formalities, only for them to leave the stage.
The small contingent permitted to attend – including eight 𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘥ren in Argentina jerseys, plus media – were left perplexed as the squad boarded a waiting coach.
A Post reporter at the scene described the event as “awkward”, with “very excited” Hong Kong 𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘥ren waiting, hoping to take pictures with the players.
Avoiding the arrival hall, the squad were being transferred directly to their hotel, the Fullerton Ocean Park Hotel Hong Kong in Aberdeen.
Miami are to play an exhibition game against a team drawn from the city’s Premier League at Hong Kong Stadium on Sunday, with Messi – widely considered the best player of his era – being the star attraction for local fans.
The American club’s co-owner David Beckham reportedly arrived ahead of the squad to attend a closed-door commercial event.
Members of the Miami squad – whose notable names also include Uruguayan Luis Suarez and Spaniards Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets – were due to give a prematch press conference at the Fullerton Ocean Park Hotel later on Friday afternoon. Head coach Gerardo Martino and an unnamed selection of players were set to attend.
Sunday’s match forms part of a preseason tour that will take in five countries and cover about 24,000 miles (39,000km).
The announcement that 2022 Fifa World Cup winner Messi – eight-time recipient of the Ballon d’Or award for the planet’s leading player – would be heading to Hong Kong sparked a frenzy among football followers.
Tickets priced between HK$880 and HK$4,880 (US$113 to US$624) sold out within an hour when they went on sale in December.
On Saturday, Inter Miami will hold an open training session, also at Hong Kong Stadium. Tickets for that, which were available via Klook at HK$580 to HK$780, also sold out. Some 15,000 tickets were distributed to local communities via the city’s government.
Inter Miami club staff will also host two football clinics planned for 𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘭𝘥ren aged nine to 14 and selected charities.
That game was supposed to see Messi play against his old rival Cristiano Ronaldo, but the latter did not feature at all, also because of injury.
There was anger from fans last week in Shenzhen, the mainland Chinese city bordering Hong Kong, when Al Nassr abruptly cancelled two matches there because of Ronaldo’s calf issue, although the club stayed on to fulfil media duties.
Last month, a government source told the Post that there were “contract terms specifying that Messi would play in the match [against the Hong Kong XI], save for illness or injury”.