The Argentine football superstar played for 30 minutes in a goalless draw against Vissel Kobe at Tokyo’s National Stadium.
Despite Inter Miami losing 3-4 on penalties, Messi’s appearance delighted the 28,614 spectators present, who eagerly chanted his name in hopes of seeing him on the field.
Starting on the bench, Messi’s introduction into the game in the second half prompted excitement among fans. His substitution in the 60th minute for David Ruiz ignited a wave of enthusiastic cheers from the crowd, with each of his touches on the ball met with passionate applause.
Messi’s presence injected energy into the match, with his solo dribble into the Kobe box in the 79th minute drawing a collective gasp from the spectators. Although his close-range shot was saved by Kobe goalkeeper Shota Arai, Messi’s impact on the game was palpable.
Inter Miami coach Gerardo Martino revealed that the decision to field Messi was made the previous day after assessing his fitness.
“In the training yesterday afternoon, he said he was feeling good. We decided then that he would play for 30 minutes,” Martino stated.
Fans expressed their admiration for Messi’s performance, with one spectator describing it as “absolutely extraordinary.” Another fan noted the transformative effect Messi had on the game, remarking, “I witnessed the moment when a single player changed the direction of the game.”
Despite Messi’s involvement, Vissel Kobe also displayed promising moments, with former Japan international striker Yuya Osako hitting the post twice early in the match.
The friendly match in Japan stood in stark contrast to a previous fixture in Hong Kong, where Messi’s absence had led to discontent among fans.
In Tokyo, however, Messi’s appearance was met with positivity, providing fans with a memorable experience ahead of the upcoming Major League Soccer (MLS) season.
Inter Miami has one more friendly match scheduled against Argentina’s Newell’s Old Boys before the commencement of the new MLS season on February 21.
(With inputs from AFP)