Lionel Messi of Inter Miami played 30 minutes on Wednesday in a friendly match in Japan, following his absence from a similar match that caused outrage in Hong Kong a few days earlier.
The superstar from Argentina entered the game late in a goalless draw against Vissel Kobe in Tokyo, where his club ultimately lost 4-3 in penalties.
Concerned about his starting bench position for the preseason match against J-League team Kobe, 28,614 fans at the National Stadium intermittently screamed “Messi, Messi” in an effort to get the 36-year-old to come out.
Early in the second half, when the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner and other substitutes warmed up, they started to feel fortunate.
When the World Cup-winning captain took David Ruiz’s place around the hour mark, the audience went into a wild frenzy and began to shout enthusiastically at every move the player made.
He dribbled alone into the Kobe box in the 79th minute, and custodian Shota Arai stopped his close-range attempt.
Miami coach Gerardo Martino stated following the game that Messi’s usage was decided upon Tuesday afternoon.
“He reported feeling well during the training yesterday afternoon. Then, we decided that he would perform for half an hour,” stated Martino.
For many fans who risked the winter cold to attend the night game, that was satisfactory enough.
“Very remarkable,” 45-year-old Hiroto Hori described the celebrity. “I witnessed the moment when a single player changed the direction of the game.”
It was echoed by fans.
“Messi completely changed the game from its quiet beginning,” Yuta Tanaka, 30, remarked.
With former Japan international attacker Yuya Osako striking the crossbar 15 minutes into the game, Vissel had also shown potential.
Osako struck the woodwork once more a minute later.
In the decisive shootout, which Kobe won, Messi did not take a kick.