Lionel Messi, the world champion and a seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, scored a free kick from about 25 yards out in the 94th minute to help Inter Miami defeat Cruz Azul, 2-1, on Friday night in the Leagues Cup.
Unquestionably the greatest play in Inter Miami’s brief history, left foot of Messi sent the ball over a wall of four Cruz Azul defenders and into the upper left corner of the goal. Play resumed for roughly a minute before the referee’s whistle blew, and fireworks shot into the night sky.
While seated on the bench, Messi waved at fans. And if that wasn’t enough, Messi saved his best moment for the end. He watched the ball sail into the net. That is something he’s done about 800 times before for club and country, then sprinted to the right corner of the field and leaped into the arms of teammates.
Lionel Messi checked in early in the second half with Inter Miami leading 1-0. He hugged the player he was replacing, midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, then trotted onto the field as the estimated crowd of 21,000 all seemed to be standing, almost all of them with phones out to chronicle the moment.
The plans to bring Messi
It took Inter Miami four years of planning and two years of actual pursuing to bring Messi to the club. “Worth it,” co-owner David Beckham said earlier in the week.
Nobody even left their seats when the halftime whistle blew. The reason: Messi was on the field. He warmed up for about 5 minutes during intermission with the other reserves before they all left for the locker room.
That’s when the fans, finally, could put their phones down and take a breath. Temporarily, anyway. The wait was officially on: When was Messi coming in? He resumed warmups while the second half was getting under way, jogging around behind the end line near Miami’s supporter section, and fans roared in delight when he gave them a wave.