First title for Inter Miami through the Messi magic!

August 20, 2023
[caption id="attachment_1659" align="alignleft" width="960"] Inter Miami CF reacts during the trophy ceremony for the Leagues Cup Championship match at GEODIS Park. Mandatory Credit: Alan Poizner-USA TODAY Sports Inter Miami CF reacts during the trophy ceremony for the Leagues Cup Championship match at GEODIS Park. Mandatory Credit: Alan Poizner-USA TODAY Sports[/caption] As Inter Miami defeated Nashville on penalties (10-9) after their Leagues Cup final finished 1-1 in 90 minutes, Lionel Messi struck a thunderous goal to win his first championship in North American football. On Saturday, Nashville's Fafa Picault equalised Miami's lead in the second half after the World Cup champion from Argentina had given Miami the lead in the 24th minute with a spectacular shot into the top corner. Messi struck the post, and Miami's Leonardo Campana missed a last-second opportunity to win the game in regulation. As a result, the game proceeded to a shootout, which culminated in a duel between the two goalkeepers with Miami's Drake Callender save Elliot Panicco's effort. The American goalie, who had made several crucial stops late in the game to keep his team in the game, was hurried to join in the celebration by Messi and his teammates. When Messi joined Miami a month ago, they were dead last in Major League Soccer and in their third season of existence. But Messi, along with fellow Spaniards Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba, completely changed the squad and helped them go on a seven-game undefeated streak to win the League Cup. The club's founder and co-owner David Beckham expressed his surprise at how swiftly the former Barcelona three had been able to bring about change. Watching these athletes play is "like watching a movie; everything about their play is beautiful from an emotional standpoint," he remarked. Seven-times Awarded the Ballon d'Or Messi has already scored 10 goals in seven games for his new side, and on Wednesday, when his squad plays Cincinnati in the US Open Cup semifinal, he has a chance to go to a second final. Messi now holds the most Leagues Cup trophies of any player with 44. The event, which included groups from the MLS and Liga MX, crowned the Argentinean player of the year. This was not the dominant, entertaining Miami that in the past month has lit up the tournament, featuring MLS and Mexican Liga MX clubs, but the win was sweet nonetheless. [caption id="attachment_1656" align="alignleft" width="515"]Seven-times Ballon d'Or winner Messi has now scored 10 goals in seven games in the pink shirt of his new club [Chandan Khanna/AFP] Seven-times Ballon d'Or winner Messi has now scored 10 goals in seven games in the pink shirt of his new club [Chandan Khanna/AFP][/caption]“I am very happy to win our first title in just one month, the club’s first. The team is growing by leaps and bounds and we are very happy,” said midfielder Busquets. “We have infected the team with our spirit, our work, our character and experience. We are making a solid team … And then we have Leo, who makes a difference because he’s the best in the world.” Nashville went into the game with the explicit goal of limiting Busquets' and subsequently Messi's impact, and they were successful in making Miami play a slower style of possession football deeper in their own half. Walker Zimmerman's header from a Lukas MacNaughton corner forced Callender into a low save, serving as an early signal from Gary Smith's team that they may cause Miami problems at set pieces. Messi dropped deeper and looked for openings in the home defenders as Miami probed. However, Robert Taylor twisted and turned and hit a ferocious drive that Nashville keeper Elliot Panicco did well to keep out because Walker Zimmerman was managing the back line effectively. Miami took the lead after three minutes, and the catalyst for their breakthrough was predictable. After Taylor's attempted inside pass was stopped, Messi sped by Zimmerman and created enough space to his left to unleash an unstoppable drive from more than 25 yards out that sailed into the top corner and beyond the defenceless Panicco. Miami appeared to be in complete control and played with confidence that bordered on swagger, but things changed after the break. Picault successfully headed in a corner kick that ricocheted off the feet of Benjamin Cremaschi and Callender at the back post. Suddenly Nashville had the belief and their German forward Hany Mukhtar came alive, testing Miami with his speedy runs and Callender with a blast from the right. With a shot from just beyond the box in the 71st minute that scraped the outside of the post, Messi came dangerously close to another Hollywood ending. Campana, a Miami teammate from Ecuador, could have won the match in the waning seconds when he rounded Panicco but from a tight angle could only hit the post with the goal at his disposal. It came down to the goalkeepers in the penalty shootout after all 10 outfield players had missed one shot each. Callender maintained his composure with his shot before denying Panicco and starting the celebrations. Argentine coach Gerardo 'Tata' Martino appeared contemplative as the players sprayed champagne in the dressing area. “The most important thing we had to do is put together a team while we were playing a seven-game tournament, and that’s very difficult to do,” he said. “We now have greater clarity about what the future may hold for us after winning this title in 30 days”.

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