Argentinian superstar Lionel Messi made a second-half cameo for U.S. Major League Soccer club Inter Miami in their 4-3 penalty shootout loss to J-League champions Vissel Kobe following a scoreless draw at Tokyo's National Stadium on Wednesday.

The friendly was the final leg of a preseason tour for Miami that became mired in controversy after record eight-time Ballon d'Or winner Messi was unable to play during an earlier stop in Hong Kong.

An adductor issue prevented the former Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain attacker from taking the field Sunday against a select team of Hong Kong players, prompting fans from the city and elsewhere in China to vent online about what they perceived to be disrespectful behavior by the visiting club.

Inter Miami's Lionel Messi (C) takes a shot against Vissel Kobe during the second half of a preseason match at Tokyo's National Stadium on Feb. 7, 2024. (Kyodo)

At a press conference on the eve of the match in Tokyo, Messi said he was unsure if he would be fit to play for Miami, who are part-owned by former England star David Beckham, and doubts remained after he was named on the bench by manager Gerardo Martino.

But the 36-year-old began warming up early in the second half and drew a roar from the crowd of 28,614, far below the stadium's roughly 68,000 capacity, when he entered in the 60th minute.

He forced a save shortly after coming on and was cheered each time he touched the ball.

Adult tickets for the Tokyo match ranged from 10,000 yen ($68) to 200,000 yen, with "special experience" packages priced higher.

While Messi started on the bench, Miami's starting lineup included former Barcelona stars Sergio Busquets, Luis Suarez and Jordi Alba.

In a first half that produced few chances for either side, the loudest cheers were heard when the big screens at each end showed Messi sitting on the sideline.

Busquets exited the game midway through the opening period after his late challenge on Yuya Osako resulted in him being inadvertently kicked in the leg by the Kobe striker.

Messi was not among the penalty takers for Miami, who missed their last three spot kicks.

Alba, who previously visited Japan with Barcelona, said the match had been valuable preparation for the MLS season kicking off later this month.

"The hospitality from everyone in Japan has been fantastic," he said. "Our opponents today were a really good team. This was an opportunity to prepare really well for the upcoming season."

Kobe will be back at the National Stadium on Feb. 17 to face Emperor's Cup winners Kawasaki Frontale in the traditional curtain-raiser to the Japanese domestic season, the Super Cup.

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