Lionel Messi’s much-anticipated journey in American football commenced in remarkable fashion as he scripted a dream debut for Inter Miami. With only seconds remaining on the clock, the soccer maestro delivered a magical curling free-kick, securing a sensational 2-1 triumph over Cruz Azul in the opening match of both teams’ Leagues Cup campaign.
Despite facing a formidable opponent in Cruz Azul, Inter Miami, aware of Messi’s limited training time with the squad, wisely introduced him from the bench. The match held at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, witnessed moments of brilliance from the Mexican visitors, who kept Miami on their toes throughout the game.
Even for the Argentine superstar, who recently clinched the World Cup title and secured a record seven Ballon d’Or awards as the world’s best player, opportunities during the match were few and far between.
However, determined to make an impact, Messi orchestrated a pivotal moment by winning a foul just beyond the penalty area. Seizing the chance, he executed a flawless left-footed free kick that skillfully sailed past the defensive wall and goalkeeper Andres Gudino, nestling into the top left corner of the net. The precision and finesse of the shot left spectators in awe of Messi’s unrivaled talent.
“I knew it was the final opportunity,” Messi revealed, recounting his thoughts on the crucial free kick, as reported by ESPN.com. “I approached it like I always do and thankfully, the goalkeeper couldn’t reach the ball.”
He emphasized the significance of securing victories for the team, acknowledging their challenging position in the league. “While this is another tournament, it will undoubtedly boost our morale,” Messi added.
In addition to Messi’s heroics, Robert Taylor also contributed a goal just before halftime, kickstarting an impressive start for Miami in the competitive three-team group, which includes Atlanta United. The tournament itself brings together all 47 teams from MLS and Liga MX.
Cruz Azul fought back, with former LA Galaxy winger Uriel Antuna scoring a well-executed equalizer in the 65th minute. The visitors dominated the overall shot count 18-12, with eight of their attempts finding the target compared to Miami’s six.
Miami’s goalkeeper, Drake Callendar, played a pivotal role in the team’s victory, making seven crucial saves, including two early ones that preserved the match’s balance before Taylor’s goal.
Messi’s long-distance winner showcased his unparalleled skill, bending the ball around the defensive wall in a manner reminiscent of Miami co-owner David Beckham’s famous free kicks during his playing days with England. Coach Tata Martino described Messi’s extraordinary talent as seemingly ordinary to him, but acknowledged that they are witnessing the greatness of the “GOAT” (Greatest of All Time).
The magnitude of the occasion was not lost on the spectators, as several sports and music icons graced the event. LeBron James and Serena Williams, both considered among the greatest in their respective sports (NBA and tennis), were present to witness Messi’s debut. Music legends Gloria and Emilio Estefan, Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, and even Kim Kardashian also attended the momentous match.