In a moment that will forever live in the annals of American soccer history, Lionel Messi made a highly anticipated debut for Inter Miami CF, delivering the winning goal in a dramatic stoppage time. His debut was eagerly awaited not just by fans in Florida, but by soccer enthusiasts worldwide, who had their eyes fixed on DRV PNK Stadium on Friday.
A Night to Remember
The tension was high, but Messi did not disappoint. His signature left boot produced a mesmerizing free kick from outside the box, out of reach for Cruz Azul goalkeeper Andrés Gudiño. Messi’s unforgettable moment marked an epic 2-1 victory over Liga MX club Cruz Azul, kicking off the Leagues Cup with a bang. It was the start that the soccer fraternity of Miami had been waiting for since the team’s inception in Major League Soccer. “I knew it was the last play, and I hoped to score to avoid going to penalties and secure the three points, as it was a crucial match for us to start the new tournament with a victory,” Messi conveyed to Apple TV in his post-match comments.
Inter Miami CF’s Rollercoaster First Half
The game didn’t start off on the best note for Inter Miami. The first half saw turnovers, gaps in the midfield, and subpar defending. Despite the rough start, Robert Taylor managed to score a goal from inside the box, putting Miami in the lead by 1-0 just before halftime.
Messi’s Entry Changes the Game
Messi’s entry into the field in the 54th minute marked a significant turning point in the game. Messi, along with Busquets and Josef Martinez, was brought in as a substitute by head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino. His first touch of the ball resulted in a sublime sequence of a run, a give-and-go, and Messi weaving his way up the field. The entry of Messi brought a noticeable change in the game dynamics. The play became cleaner with more open spaces and increased attacking threats. Miami defender Kamal Miller gave a little too much space in the box for Uriel Antuna in the 65th minute, which resulted in Cruz Azul scoring the equalizer. However, Messi and his magic were yet to unfold.
Messi’s Last-Minute Magic
With the clock ticking and the score tied, Cruz Azul committed a foul 25 yards out. Messi stepped up and curled the free kick into the top corner, the goal that ultimately decided the match. The entire stadium erupted as Miami celebrated an unexpected yet exciting victory. “It’s such a moment for this country,” Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham said. “It’s such a moment for the league. And it’s a very proud moment for us.”
After Messi’s unforgettable debut, Inter Miami CF is now looking forward to their next match against Atlanta United on Tuesday in Fort Lauderdale. Cruz Azul is also set to visit Atlanta five days later. With this win, Miami has already positioned itself in the knockout stage starting on Aug. 2, and their performance in this competition might qualify them for the CONCACAF Champions League. For Messi and Inter Miami CF, the aim now is to maintain the momentum and build on the morale-boosting victory to climb up the rankings and solidify their position in the league.