Messi starts Miami's Japan friendly on bench

Lionel Messi was named among the Inter Miami substitutes for the latest game in the team’s preseason tour, this one against Vissel Kobe in Tokyo.

Argentina’s World Cup-winning captain came off the bench in the 60th minute with the scoreline still at 0-0 and was unable to break the deadlock as the 90 minutes finished in a stalemate.

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It was ultimately decided by penalty kicks, with J-League champions Vissel Kobe winning the shootout 4-3. Messi, a record eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, did not take part in the shootout.

Messi missed his team’s win over a Hong Kong League XI last week with an adductor injury, prompting the country’s government to express its disappointment.

Messi told reporters on Tuesday that he felt “very good compared to a few days ago,” though he added he wasn’t sure if he would be fit enough to play and would assess based on how training went.

Miami’s fellow former Barcelona cohort of Sergio Busquets, Jordi Alba and Luis Suárez were all included in Gerardo “Tata” Martino’s starting team for Wednesday’s game. Busquets was forced off midway through the first half after suffering a knock to his ankle.

The Barcelona links ran even deeper for the fixture, as Blaugrana legend Andrés Iniesta spent five years with the Vissel Kobe before moving to the United Arab Emirates to join Emirates in August 2023.

The match in Hong Kong drew 40,000 fans, with spectators paying up to nearly HK$5000 ($640) per ticket. In Tokyo, however, entire blocks of seating at the Japan National Stadium remained unoccupied, with just 28,614 tickets sold.

“It’s very gratifying to watch the live broadcast when he started warming up,” said Tweety, a fan who watched the Hong Kong game on TV and spoke to Reuters on Wednesday.

“I can’t help but start laughing when Suarez, Busquets, Alba, all main players were in the game. Messi really likes the Japanese fans more by playing 30 mins.”

Some Hong Kong fans also commented on the Inter Miami YouTube livestream posting: “Refund refund refund refund refund” and “Arrest Messi under National Security Law.”

Inter Miami have won just one of their preseason fixtures so far against the Hong Kong team in a run that has seen them beaten by Al Hilal and Al Nassr of the Saudi Pro League.

Messi was restricted to a late substitute appearance in the 6-0 defeat to Al Nassr, which Cristiano Ronaldo missed entirely through injury.

Information from Reuters contributed to this report.

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