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Lionel Messi drills stunning buzzer-beater in Inter Miami debut

FORT LAUDERDALE — Lionel Messi played his first match with Inter Miami and it couldn’t have gone any better.

The international superstar wasn’t in the starting lineup Friday night against Cruz Azul, but was inserted in the 54th minute. With the match tied 1-1, he drew a foul in the 90th minute, then rocketed a free kick into the top right corner for Inter Miami’s first win in two months.

Pink fireworks exploded above DRV PNK Stadium and the Inter Miami faithful let out its loudest roar since the club began play in 2020.

Messi was noticeably quick in his first minute on the field. He connected on a smooth combination pass with defender DeAndre Yedlin and blitzed up the right sideline, but then committed a foul in the corner. Some extra cheers came from the crowd every time Messi had the ball on his foot, but his passing was also a sight to see.

Fans chanted “Messi!” numerous times throughout the night starting at the opening whistle and the sold-out crowd rarely sat down. Celebrities such as LeBron James and Kim Kardashian were in attendance.

Midfielder Robert Taylor scored for Inter Miami late in the first half off a well-executed cross and an even better shot off the right post. It was the first time Miami scored a first-half goal since May 13.

Leonardo Campana started at striker over Josef Martinez, while Yedlin and Kamal Miller re-entered the starting lineup.

Defender Ian Fray suffered what appeared to be a gruesome non-contact leg injury in the first half that knocked him out of the game. He was guided off the field with his arms draped around Inter Miami training staff members and put no weight on his left leg. Noah Allen immediately replaced him on the field.

Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender was forced to make two strong saves in the first four minutes because of sloppy play on the back end. That continued for several minutes as Cruz Azul forced plenty of turnovers and applied lots of pressure off the rush.

Campana broke through on a breakaway in the eighth minute, but a quick challenge from a trailing defender forced him to take a shot from distance. Cruz Azul countered with more long-distance passes, and created a great scoring chance that hit the left post before Díber Cambindo sent the rebound over the top of the goal.

Inter Miami didn’t threaten again until midway through the half on a Campana header that went straight to the goalkeeper. He then put another header on frame in the 34th minute off a free kick.

It slowly built up Inter Miami momentum as Callender kept Cruz Azul blanked.

In the 44th minute, forward Robbie Robinson roped a high pass from in front of the Cruz Azul bench all the way to the opposite corner and perfectly on Taylor’s foot. Taylor busted a move, cut to the middle and unleashed a right-footed shot off the right post and into the net.

It wasn’t long into the second half until Messi and Sergio Busquets made their debuts. They spent the first few minutes of the half warming up in front of the supporters section, then returned to the bench, swapped the red penny for a pink jersey and lined up at the center line.

It was a riveting moment, with Messi and his former FC Barcelona teammate Busquets taking the field at the same time. Messi replaced midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, Busquets took midfielder David Ruiz’s place, and forward Josef Martinez also entered the match for Campana.

Cruz Azul, meanwhile, didn’t flinch as the superstar was subbed on. The Mexican side continued to push and finally broke Callender in the 65th minute.

Uriel Antuna fired a shot from the right of the net that hit off the hand of a diving Callender and into the top of the net.

Messi displayed some early chemistry with his new teammates, especially with Yedlin and Martinez. He set each of them up with runs, but couldn’t find a finish to put on net. Busquets also gave Messi a quality service for his first shot attempt, but it was blocked by a Cruz Azul defender. Then, Busquets tried to lay a chip over the top of the defense to a streaking Messi, but he collided with a defender in the box and no whistle was blown.

Messi and Martinez nearly connected for a goal in the 87th minute, but the side official was quick to rule it offside. Callender then made a game-saving stop seconds later.

Cruz Azul committed a foul in the 90th minute from just outside its own box, in what turned out to be grave mistake.

Messi took the kick, and rifled it into the top right corner for the win. His debut couldn’t have ended any better.

Inter Miami has a quick turnaround for their second game of the Leagues Cup. They will host Atlanta United Tuesday night at DRV PNK Stadium.

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