Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi has arrived in Tokyo, two days before Argentina's friendly against Japan. Some 100 fans surrounded the diminutive 23-year-old, who was casually dressed in a white T-shirt and black jeans, at the arrivals lounge of Narita airport.
Japanese media had speculated he might miss the trip after injuring his right ankle in his club's 2-1 win at Atletico Madrid on 19 September. But the reigning FIFA World Player of the Year recovered in time, scoring the opener in a 1-1 draw with Mallorca on Sunday.
Friday's friendly in Saitama, north of Tokyo, will be former AC Milan coach Alberto Zaccheroni's debut in charge of Japan. The 57-year-old Italian signed a contract with the Asian giants, who reached the Round of 16 at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa™, in late August.
However, he watched from the stands as Japan won their two friendlies at home to Paraguay and Guatemala in early September, as he had yet to obtain a work visa.
The 22-strong Argentina squad also features Manchester City's Carlos Tevez, Gonzalo Higuain of Real Madrid and Barcelona midfielder Javier Mascherano. Coach Sergio Batista and most of his players arrived ahead of Messi and trained in Tokyo yesterday.
The 47-year-old was signed on a short-term contract and is apparently keen to extend his deal, which is due to expire at the end of the year. His side beat Republic of Ireland 1-0 away on 12 August, before defeating world champions Spain 4-1 at home last month.