Messi scores late winner on Inter Miami debut


Lionel Messi #10 of Inter Miami CF controls the ball during the second half of the Leagues Cup 2023 match between Cruz Azul and Inter Miami CF at DRV PNK Stadium on July 21, 2023 in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Argentina star Lionel Messi curled in a stunning stoppage-time free-kick on his Inter Miami debut to clinch a 2-1 victory against Mexican side Cruz Azul.

Messi, 36, struck in the fourth minute of added time as his Major League Soccer side won the Leagues Cup tie.

The 20,000-capacity crowd included celebrities such as basketball’s LeBron James, tennis legend Serena Williams and US TV star Kim Kardashian.

“We wanted to start like this by giving these people a victory,” said Messi.

“We knew that it was very important for us to start this championship in winning fashion. Luckily we were able to do it in the end, and I am very happy.”

Smoke bombs in Miami’s pink colour were let off behind the goal as the DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale as some fans ran on to the pitch to celebrate Messi’s goal, before being led away by security.

It continued the party atmosphere started on Sunday, when Messi was officially unveiled to fans in front of another capacity crowd in south Florida.

The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner only trained with his team-mates for the first time on Tuesday after moving to the MLS following the end of his contract at Paris St-Germain.

Messi scored 32 goals in 75 games during a two-year spell with the French champions after leaving Barcelona, and turned down lucrative offers from other countries to play in the US.

This was the first time he had turned out for a non-European club side, but was joined by a familiar face as he and fellow new signing and former Barca team-mate Sergio Busquets came on as part of a 54th-minute triple substitution.

Spain defender Jordi Alba has also made the switch from the Nou Camp, and will be available to play against Atlanta United in the Leagues Cup on Tuesday.

The cup competition, between sides in the MLS and Mexico’s LIGA MX, marks a fresh start for Inter Miami, who are bottom of the MLS table without a win in 11 games.

Messi lived up to the Hollywood script after Robert Taylor’s opener for the home side was cancelled out by Uriel Antuna.

Argentina’s World Cup winner was brought down by Carlos Salcedo for a free-kick just outside the box in the final seconds, in ideal range for his famous left foot.

And he delivered perfectly, curling the ball high to the right of Cruz Azul goalkeeper Andres Gudino and into the top corner.

“It is a huge joy to get this first victory after how we have done in the league,” he added.

“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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