Lionel Messi rifles home last-minute winner during star-studded Inter Miami debut

Argentine's free-kick deep into stoppage time seals 2-1 win over Cruz Azul

Messi's winner caps off dream Inter Miami debut

Messi's winner caps off dream Inter Miami debut
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Lionel Messi scored a brilliant free-kick deep into second-half stoppage time in a dream debut for Inter Miami that sealed a 2-1 victory over Cruz Azul in their Leagues Cup opener on Friday.

Miami brought on Messi off the bench as he had only three full training sessions with the team following his historic move to Major League Soccer.

His Miami debut had been years in the making and proved well worth the wait.

After Robert Taylor's excellent opener was cancelled out by Uriel Antuna, the 36-year-old World Cup winner struck at the death to leave the DRV PNK Stadium delirious.

Inter rode out that early storm and took the lead just before the break as Taylor's exquisite low strike went in off the post to Messi's delight.

The forward was cheered throughout and received a rapturous reception when brought on in the 54th minute, taking the armband as Sergio Busquets also came on for his debut.

Jordi Alba has also signed up to join their former Barcelona boss Tata Martino in Miami, but there remains work to do and that was clear as Cruz Azul deservedly levelled through Antuna.

The Mexicans could easily have won it as the clock wound down, but this was Messi's night.

The 36-year-old won a free-kick deep in stoppage time and there was an air of inevitability before he sent the resulting set piece into the top left-hand corner as fireworks filled the air.

It was a memorable evening for the sold-out crowd that included the NBA superstar LeBron James, tennis star Serena Williams and socialite Kim Kardashian, among others.

"I knew it was the last chance," Messi said of his free kick, according to "I just tried like always do and fortunately the goalkeeper couldn't get the ball.

"It is important for this team to get wins because we are not in a good position in the league. I know this is another tournament, but it will help our morale."

"We wanted to start like this by giving these people a victory," added Messi.

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

Messi also made sure that the club's co-owner David Beckham had a broad grin at the final whistle.

"To be honest, as soon as I saw the free kick given I thought this is the way it's meant to end. Especially when you've got players like Leo and Sergio on the pitch, that's what they produce," said the former England midfielder.

"It's so exciting tonight for our fans. All of these people that come down here to see Leo just step onto the pitch, let alone just do what he's done. It's a dream come true for everyone in this stadium to see.

"It's such a moment for this country, such a moment for this league," he said.

Updated: July 22, 2023, 9:37 AM