Seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Lionel Messi announced his arrival in Major League Soccer (MLS) by securing a stunning last-minute free-kick to seal victory for Inter Miami in the Leagues Cup game against Mexican side Cruz Azul.
Messi struck in the fourth minute of stoppage time on his Inter Miami debut to win the game.
Former England captain and co-owner of Inter Miami, David Beckham, observed Messi’s debut from an executive box near the dugout exactly 16 years after he made his own MLS debut for Los Angeles Galaxy.
In a post-match interview, the 48-year-old expressed his delight, saying: “To be honest, as soon as I saw the free-kick given, I thought this is the way it’s meant to end.”
The game started off with both sides starting on the front foot. Cruz Azul came dangerously close to scoring with a shot glancing just off the post in the opening stages. Meanwhile, Miami peppered the visitors’ defence with shots on goal. The home side’s relentless pressure proved fruitful, Robert Taylor found the net, sending the crowd into a frenzy as they took the lead just before halftime.
However, amid the competitive contest, it was evident that the spotlight was firmly on Messi. From the first minute, chants celebrating the Argentine superstar echoed throughout DRV PNK Stadium, leaving no doubt that this game was all about one man.
As Messi took to the pitch for the home fans, he was swiftly handed the captain’s armband. A familiar face joined him as he and former Barca team-mate Sergio Busquets came on as part of a 54th-minute triple substitution. Nevertheless, nothing could stand in the way of Cruz Azul equalizing, as Uriel Antuna unleashed a powerful shot to level the score.
Yet, destiny had other plans. In the final moments of the game, Messi was brought down by Carlos Salcedo, setting up a free-kick opportunity just outside the box, perfectly positioned for his famous left foot.
The Argentine maestro did not disappoint, curling the ball skillfully high to the right of goalkeeper Andres Gudino and into the top corner to cap off his fairytale start as an Inter Miami player.
“It is a huge joy to get this first victory after how we have done in the league,” Messi said after the game. “It is important to start winning, beyond the fact that it is another championship, for confidence it is very good to get victories.”
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