After leaving fans disappointed in Hong Kong, Lionel Messi put in a 30-minute appearance in Tokyo on Wednesday in Inter Miami’s latest exhibition match in Asia — although he still left some supporters wanting more.
Messi came off the bench for the final half hour, energized his teammates and probably had the best chance of the match in the 80th with two point-blank shots that were both stopped by the Vissel Kobe defence.
After a 0-0 draw in regulation, the match went to penalty kicks and Vissel won the shootout 4-3. Messi did not take a penalty, however, which brought jeers from the crowd of 28,614 in Tokyo’s National Stadium, which seats 68,000.
But, it wasn’t close to the level of booing that broke out in Hong Kong after Messi stayed on the bench for the entire game with a groin injury. Some fans demanded refunds.
The Argentina star was contrite in a rare press conference in Tokyo on Tuesday as he addressed the public relations disaster. He had said he wasn’t sure whether he would be fit enough to play in Tokyo and left fans guessing until he started warming up in the second half — drawing loud cheers from the crowd.
Vissel hit the post twice in the first half and had by far the best chances in a match it largely dominated.
The match in Tokyo wrapped up Inter Miami’s global promotional tour — stretching from El Salvador to Dallas into Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong and ending in Tokyo.
Inter won only one of the six games. The Miami pre-season wraps up on February 16 in Florida against Newell’s Old Boys, Messi’s boyhood club from Rosario, Argentina. Many expect him to finish his career there.
Inter Miami is loaded with former Barcelona players including Messi, Luis Suarez, Jordi Alba, and Sergio Busquets.
Andres Iniesta, another former Barcelona star, played several seasons in Japan with Vissel Kobe and spoke briefly to the crowd before the match.