Inter Miami’s friendly against Vissel Kobe in doubt amid Messi injury concerns

Inter Miami boss Tata Martino was forced to apologise after his side were booed off the field in Hong Kong. His crime? Failing to bring Lionel Messi off the bench for the Herons in their fifth game of a busy preseason schedule.

Miami ran out 4-1 winners, recording their first victory of 2024, but Messi remained on the sideline as he continues to recover from a hamstring complaint. Martino had suggested on Friday that Messi would be fit enough to feature in the friendly fixture against a Hong Kong Select XI but a Sunday morning fitness test prevented him from taking part.

Leo has an inflammation in his adductor and we are taking it day by day. We always have the hope that things can improve, but the medical staff said it was very risky,” Martino said.

Will Inter Miami play against Vissel Kobe?

The Herons are now on the final overseas leg of their preseason tour but a scheduled fixture against Japanese side Vissel Kobe appears to be in jeopardy. Messi played just six minutes against Al-Nassr earlier this week and failed to appear in Hong Kong, suggesting that he may be struggling with a more serious injury than previously thought.

Miami had planned to take on Vissel Kobe on Wednesday, February 7 but that fixture has now been removed from Apple TV’s MLS Season Pass schedule.

Messi suffered a similar muscular issue towards the end of the 2023 regular season and the Argentine was forced to sit out four matches at a crucial point of the season. With the captain absent, Inter Miami failed to win in the league and lost the Open Cup final against Houston Dynamo. The club will be anxious to ensure that their prized possession is in the best position to compete in MLS this season but have to balance out the enormous commercial push that they have made off the back of his name, organising money-spinning friendly fixtures to take advantage of his popularity.

Hong Kong fans demand refund

The absence of Lionel Messi made no difference to the result for Inter Miami, but for the home support the missed chance to see the World Cup winner play caused outrage. Despite the fact that Messi – now 36 years old – was evidently recovering from an injury, a large number of fans at the Hong Kong Stadium began chanting for his introduction early in the second half.

They had paid high prices for tickets to the Inter Miami show and felt entitled to a sight of the main attraction. As the frustration grew in the second half, the chants morphed from Messi, Messi, Messi’ to Where is Messi?and finally into Refund, refund. In the final stages the crowd began booing each entering Miami substitute, including 17-year-old Tyler Hall as he made his first appearance for the team.

The final whistle was greeted with a chorus of boos and even the post-game speech from Miami co-owner David Beckham was drowned out by the noise of the supporters’ displeasure. In the hours after the game the Hong Kong government issued a strongly-worded statement criticising the organisers and suggested that part of the agreed payment could be withdrawn after Messi did not make it onto the field.

With a first win of the season in the bank, Inter Miami head coach Tata Martino will feel justified in his decision not to risk Messi in a non-competitive friendly fixture. But supporters’ reaction at the Hong Kong Stadium does highlight one of the problems with Miami’s unashamed exploitation of Messi’s popularity. His mere appearance can capture bring together fans from around the world, but his unexpected absence can lose them just as easily.


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