Messi Plays And Has Chances But Vissel Kobe Beats Inter Miami 4-3 On Penalties In A Friendly

Inter Miami's Lionel Messi controls the ball during the friendly soccer match between Vissel Kobe and Inter Miami CF at the National Stadium, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
Inter Miami's Lionel Messi controls the ball during the friendly soccer match between Vissel Kobe and Inter Miami CF at the National Stadium, Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2024, in Tokyo, Japan. (AP Photo/Eugene Hoshiko)
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TOKYO (AP) — 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 — the first stopped by goalkeeper Shota Aria and the second cleared off the line by the Vissel Kobe defense.

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.

“After practice on Tuesday in the evening, he (Messi) said he felt good and we agreed he would play 30 minutes,” Inter Miami coach Gerardo Martino said. “We are very content now after the game is over because Messi looked very comfortable.”

He did not say why Messi did not take a penalty.

The Hong Kong government chimed in almost immediately, asking why Messi was able to play in Japan and not several days before in Hong Kong.

“The government hopes the organizers and teams can provide a reasonable explanation to Hong Kongers and address their questions,” the Hong Kong Culture, Sports and Tourism office said.

The intervention of the Hong Kong government gives the largely promotional game a political and commercial edge given the size of the Chinese market and the political rivalry in Asia with Japan.

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 preseason wraps up on Feb. 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.

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