Inter Miami land in Japan for their final preseason friendly overseas… but do thousands more fans face disappointment of missing Lionel Messi as he struggles with a hamstring injury?
Inter Miami landed in Tokyo for the final leg of their global pre-season tour and a day after their controversial visit to Hong Kong.
The MLS franchise was heavily criticized after star Lionel Messi was an unused substitute during their 4-1 win over a Hong Kong XI on Sunday.
Around 40,000 splashed out on tickets to catch a glimpse of Messi in action, but he remained rooted to the bench after suffering a hamstring strain during the tour’s previous leg in Saudi Arabia.
David Beckham, the team’s president and co-owner, was booed as he gave a full-time speech as angry fans chanted ‘payback’ and even kicked Messi’s head off a billboard outside the stadium.
The Hong Kong government has also demanded answers from organizers after they gave a grant to allow the match to take place. Inter Miami coach Gerardo Martino also begged for ‘forgiveness’ after not putting Messi on.
Lionel Messi and his Inter Miami teammates have landed in Tokyo for their final pre-season stop
It is unclear whether Messi will play against Vissel Kobe on Wednesday due to his injury
Jordi Alba was all smiles when he got off the plane in Tokyo – where they will play Vissel Kobe
David Ruiz steps through the plane as he hopes to impress ahead of the new MLS season
David Beckham’s team is currently preparing for the new MLS season later this month
They will surely be relieved that their tour has reached its final destination with one more game, against Vissel Kobe, scheduled for Wednesday.
It remains to be seen whether Messi will play due to his hamstring problem, but he was seen getting off the team’s plane on Monday.
Team-mate and fellow Barcelona star Jordi Alba was all smiles as he disembarked in Tokyo, as their other teammates followed suit.
It comes 24 hours after the chaotic scenes in Hong Kong. Messi played just seven minutes of their defeat to Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr last week due to a hamstring problem.
He then did not feature at all on Sunday – alongside Luis Suarez – which did not go down well with the locals.
The Hong Kong government, reflecting the anger of the fans, said it may withdraw $2 million in funding from the organizers who helped bring Inter Miami to the city.
“The organizer owes all football fans an explanation,” it said.
It was apparently made clear to supporters when they bought tickets that no refunds would be issued if Messi did not play.
A tight hamstring kept the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner on the sidelines alongside Luis Suarez
Fans paid huge sums to see Messi in action, but they were denied the chance on Sunday
Miami coach Gerardo Martino said the club’s medical team made the decision after an assessment Sunday morning.
“We understand the disappointment of the fans for the absence of Leo (Messi),” Martino told reporters.
“We understand many fans are very disappointed and we ask for their forgiveness.
“We wish we could have sent Leo on for at least a little while, but the risk was too great.”
Midway through the second half, chants of ‘We want Messi’ rose around the Hong Kong Stadium from fans desperate to see the greatest footballer of his generation in the much-hyped exhibition match.
The boos grew louder during the final 10 minutes when it became clear that the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner would not make even the briefest cameo.
In a statement, the organizers of the event – dubbed ‘Tatler XFEST’ – expressed their ‘extreme disappointment’ that neither Messi nor his Uruguayan team-mate Suarez took part in the match.
“Despite some news reports, Tatler had no information about the non-participation of Messi or Suarez before kick-off,” they said.