Lionel Messi appears as substitute in Inter Miami shootout loss

Messi 'hopes' to return for Inter Miami in Japan friendly (1:15)

Lionel Messi says he is aiming to play against Vissel Kobe on Wednesday after sitting out Inter Miami's friendly in Hong Kong. (1:15)

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 minute with two point-blank shots that were both stopped by the Vissel Kobe defense.

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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 news 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, [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.

Messi told reporters on Tuesday that he felt "very good compared to a few days ago," though he added he wasn't sure 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 Martino's starting team for Wednesday's game. Busquets was forced off midway through the first half after suffering an ankle injury.

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

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 Miami have won just one of their preseason fixtures 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 because of injury.

The match in Hong Kong drew 40,000 fans, with spectators paying up to nearly HK$5,000 ($640) per ticket. In Tokyo, however, entire blocks of seating at the Japan National Stadium remained unoccupied.

Information from The Associated Press and Reuters contributed to this report.