IMAGE: Inter Miami’s Lionel Messi in action with Vissel Kobe’s Yosuke Ideguchi and Ryuho Kikuchi. Photographs: Issei Kato/Reuters
After leaving fans guessing about whether or not he would take to the pitch, Lionel Messi came on in the 60th minute in Inter Miami’s friendly match against J-League side Vissel Kobe in Tokyo on Wednesday.
The 36-year-old’s no-show on the field at a highly anticipated match to a sell-out crowd in Hong Kong on Sunday caused a furore that has shown no sign of waning, with fans demanding answers and a refund.
Vissel Kobe won Wednesday’s match 4-3 in a penalty shootout after the match ended in a 0-0 draw. Messi, a record eight-time Ballon d’Or winner, did not take part in the shootout.
The match in Hong Kong drew 40,000 fans, with spectators paying up to nearly HK$5000 ($640) per ticket. In Tokyo, 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 (Luis) Suarez, (Sergio) Busquets, (Jordi) 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.”
The silence at the Tokyo stadium was deafening at times during the mostly uninspiring match between the J-League champions and Inter Miami.
The crowd erupted in the loudest cheers of the night when Messi started to warm up shortly after halftime, and the Argentine World Cup winner’s face was shown on the big screen.