Messi likely to play in Hong Kong despite injury worry, says coach

The World Cup-winner is carrying a hamstring injury and came on only for the last few minutes of a 6-0 friendly defeat to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia

By AFP

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Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

Published: Fri 2 Feb 2024, 5:01 PM

Last updated: Fri 2 Feb 2024, 10:31 PM

Lionel Messi should be able to take the field for Inter Miami's pre-season friendly in Hong Kong at the weekend despite an injury niggle, coach Gerardo Martino said Friday, to the relief of thousands of football fans in the city.

The World Cup-winning Argentina star is carrying a hamstring injury and came on only for the last few minutes of a 6-0 friendly defeat to Al Nassr in Saudi Arabia on Thursday night.

Martino said he will assess Messi's fitness in training on Saturday before deciding whether the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner will be able to start against a Hong Kong XI the next day, a match that sold out in minutes.

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"We had two very intense games (in Saudi Arabia this week), two more we have played in El Salvador and in Dallas."

Messi's Miami side lost 4-3 against Saudi's Al Hilal in Riyadh on Monday after games against El Salvador and Dallas FC.

Messi mania

They will head to Japan for a match against Vissel Kobe on Tuesday to conclude a globe-trotting pre-season tour for the MLS side.

"We have to observe the physical situation of each of our players, but we have the expectation that Leo will play as much time as possible," said Martino ahead of the match at the 40,000-capacity Hong Kong Stadium.

Martino's words will be welcomed by thousands of fans in Hong Kong who have been in the throes of Messi mania this week.

Hundreds gathered outside the team hotel in the south of the city on Friday hoping to catch a glimpse of their hero after Inter Miami arrived by private jet from Saudi Arabia.

A traditional junk boat, with Messi's face plastered across sails in the pink colours of Inter Miami, cruised around Hong Kong's famous Victoria Harbour to welcome the team.

Sports retailers reported that Messi shirts were flying off the shelves. Billboards all around the city proclaimed the team's visit to Asia as organisers warned fans not to fall victim to ticket scams and scalpers.

Photo: AFP
Photo: AFP

The team, which also features former Liverpool and Barcelona star Luis Suarez, will take part in an open training session at Hong Kong Stadium on Saturday afternoon, where thousands of Messi-shirted supporters are expected to turn up.

"We will assess each of the players in training because we have been playing a lot of pre-season games," Martino told reporters.

"The aspiration is that Leo can play as many minutes as possible.

"We will determine how long he can play depending on what happens in training tomorrow.

"But he will most certainly be on the pitch."

The new MLS season in the United States begins on February 21.

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