Lionel Messi and his Inter Miami teammates head home from their grueling world tour after losing to Japanese league champion Vissel Kobe 4-3 in penalties following a 0-0 tie in Tokyo Wednesday.
After sitting out the previous game in Hong Kong and playing just seven minutes in the second game in Saudi Arabia due to a hip injury, Messi played 30 minutes on Wednesday and seemed to be moving well. The team made a few dangerous approaches after he entered the game but could not finish.
“After training Tuesday Leo said he felt good, and we made the decision he would play 30 minutes,” said Inter Miami coach Tata Martino. “He was very happy after the match because he felt comfortable out there.”
Forward Luis Suarez, who missed the Hong Kong match with knee inflammation, returned to the starting lineup. But Miami heads home with another injury to worry about. Sergio Busquets went down early in Wednesday’s game after taking a hard hit to his right ankle. He walked gingerly off the field and never returned.
The game appeared to be over after a scoreless regulation as players shook hands, chatted and were beginning to exchange jerseys but then it was announced that there would be a penalty kick shootout.
Messi opted not to take a penalty kick. Leo Campana, Julian Gressel and Jordi Alba converted their attempts for Miami. Robert Taylor’s shot hit the crossbar and Vissel Kobe goalkeeper Shota Arai saved attempts by Noah Allen and Gregore.
“I thought it was an even match, they played better in the first half, had chances to score, we got better as the game went on in the second half,” Martino said.
Martino went with a starting lineup of: Drake Callender, Alba, Allen, Tomas Aviles, DeAndre Yedlin, Gregore, Busquets, David Ruiz, Gressel, Luis Suarez and Taylor. Yannick Bright, the first-round draft pick from the University of New Hampshire, came in early as a sub to replace Busquets. Campana and Ryan Sailor entered in the 75th minute for Suarez and Aviles.
“It was a very difficult game, and you can see why they are league champion, so credit to them,” said Yedlin. “It was incredible to play in this beautiful city and this wonderful country. We are trying to grow the leagues in both of our countries and there is great potential in both.”
Alba added: “It was a very good match and ambiance, it will be a great memory and will also serve us for what we are trying to accomplish this season. We competed well against a very good opponent, especially in the second half, and when Leo entered the game it helped us a lot.”
As in the previous games in Saudi Arabia and Hong Kong, the crowd in Japan included a large percentage of fans wearing pink Messi No. 10 jerseys and his blue and white one from the Argentine national team. They roared when he came off the bench and took off his warmup suit indicating he was getting ready to enter the field.
“We are very grateful for the treatment we have received in Tokyo, not only in the stadium, but in the whole city. The same way we appreciate the reception we got from the people of Hong Kong and Saudi Arabia. The three places we have been we have been treated very well and we have deep gratitude for that.”
A reporter asked the Inter Miami coach about the bitter feeling fans in Hong Kong had after not getting to see Messi play. He replied: “As I said after that game, we understand the disappointment of the fans in Hong Kong that Leo could not play, but it would have been a huge risk to put him in, even for a few minutes. But he always had the desire, as did our coaching staff, that he would participate in all four games (of the tour). Unfortunately, it did not turn out that way.”
Inter Miami lost three of its four games during the tour, 4-3 to Al Hilal, 6-0 to Al Nassr, and the loss in PKs to Vissel Kobe. Miami beat Honk Kong XI 4-1, but the victory was marred by jeers from the crowd because Messi did not play.
Before the start of Wednesday’s match, Andrés Iniesta shared a few words with the crowd and received a standing ovation. The Spanish midfielder played alongside Messi, Suarez, Jordi Alba and Busquets at FC Barcelona before his six years at Vissel Kobe.
Inter Miami plays its final preseason match at home Feb. 15 against Argentine club Newell’s Old Boys, the hometown team of Messi and Martino. The MLS regular season kicks off Feb. 21 with Inter Miami vs. Real Salt Lake at Hard Rock Stadium.
This story was originally published February 7, 2024, 8:51 AM.
First appeared on www.miamiherald.com