Lionel Messi and Inter Miami WIN the Leagues Cup on penalties

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami WIN the Leagues Cup on penalties after the World Cup winner’s sensational first-half strike was canceled out by an own goal

  • Lionel Messi fired Inter Miami ahead with a sensational first half strike  
  • But an own goal from goalkeeper Drake Callendar leveled things up in Nashville 
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There are times a side needs moments of genius from a star man and there are others when it needs the grit, determination and steel that forges true team spirit. Inter Miami needed it all to beat Nashville and win the Leagues Cup, even with a moment of utter brilliance once again from Lionel Messi.

It was the goalkeeper, Drake Callendar, who was the hero on the night for Miami. He scored an own goal – not that he knew much about it – before converting what turned out to be the decisive penalty because he saved the following spot kick from his opposite number, Elliot Panicco.

As Panicco lined up to take his penalty, with a sold-out Geodis Park holding its breath, Messi had stepped out of the huddle with his Miami teammates on the halfway line. He took a deep breath and looked up to the heavens as he was about to be needed to take his second penalty of the shootout.

But Callendar dived left and beat Panicco’s effort away and Messi was suddenly using the air in his lungs for one final sprint towards his goalkeeper who had helped him crown the most remarkable first month in the United States with Miami’s first ever trophy and the 44th of his incredible career – the most of anyone in the game.

There were swathes of this game where Miami struggled. They spent large spells under pressure from Nashville and were easily second best before Messi scored an outstanding goal in the 23rd minute.

Lionel Messi and Inter Miami won the Leagues Cup on penalties against Nashville

Messi celebrates with an emotional David Beckham after a truly hard-fought victory

Messi and his team celebrate wildly after beating Nashville in a dramatic penalty shootout

Miami goalkeeper Drake Callendar scored the final penalty and then made the winning save

It was Walker Zimmerman, the USA international and Nashville captain, who was made to look a fool by Messi’s genius but frankly, it could have been Sergio Ramos trying to stop him. Still, at 36 years old, the game has no answer when Messi’s eyes light up and that breathtaking instinct takes over.

Miami had attacked down the left and Robert Taylor’s pass was deflected into Messi’s path. His first touch was poor, the ball almost squirmed away from him but it made what followed even more astounding as he skipped and stretched round Zimmerman before whipping the ball between two onrushing defenders and into the top corner. 

His 10th goal, his seventh Miami game and ultimately, his first trophy in the United States, transforming a team that was winless in 11 games into Leagues Cup champions.

Miami is a place that likes its stars a certain way – they want to see that extra flair and flamboyance, that extra pizzazz. Messi has delivered that in bundles in his first month in Miami pink. But a word too for the tenacity of Sergio Busquets in this new look Miami, especially in a first 15 minutes where Nashville took the game to them.

Cruelly, it was Zimmerman who came closest to scoring before Messi’s intervention. The USA defender had a header smartly saved by Drake Callendar in the 13th minute, as Nashville looked to be growing in confidence while Miami, at the back at least, looked nervy. 

But the Zimmerman chance seemed to be what Miami needed to be cajoled into life. 

Taylor, the attacker who has looked to step up alongside Messi and lead this new era in Miami, cut in on his right whipped a powerful strike toward the far corner that Elliot Panicco had to beat away. Moments later, Messi showed him how it’s done. 

Nashville’s equalizer was the opposite of Messi’s stunner but nobody could have said they didn’t see it coming. Miami failed to clear a corner on the 57th minute and Fafa Picault’s header was deflected by Benjamin Cremaschi into goalkeeper Callendar and then over the line. 

And Miami got nervy again, with its next two biggest stars the most notable culprits. Jordi Alba completely misread a Messi run and passed the ball out of play before Busquets overhit a simple pass back to his left-back and out for a throw-in. The Nashville fans responded – they were getting sniffs of an upset. It felt like it was on. 

But then, a warning shot. Messi picked up the ball wide on the right, skipped through into the center and sent a low shot off against the face of the post. 

Nashville should have taken the lead on 77 – Major League Soccer’s MVP Hany Mukhtar escaped his marker for the first time on the night and teed up Sam Surridge, Nashville’s new striker. Callendar got down low and save brilliantly and the rebound, landing at Mukhtar’s feet, was bundled wide by the recovering Miami defender Sergii Kryvstov. It would turn out to be pivotal.

With three minutes left, both sides could have won it. Surridge turned a header goalward that Callendar was equal to and then Busquets pumped the ball long into the path of substitute striker Leonardo Campana raced through on goal with the cup final resting on his shoulders.

He tried to deftly chip the ball over Panicco, but the goalkeeper got something on it. Campano chased down the rebound as the ball was spinning wide and lunged at full stretch to turn it goalward, but could only hit the post. 

The ball rolled out and the game went to penalties. Messi, Busquets and Alba scored theirs and Callendar took care of the rest.

Both these teams entered MLS in 2020 and were in pursuit of their first piece of silverware. For Nashville, there was Tennessee pride on the line as well. They could have been the first team to deliver a sporting title to this proud state in its history – the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators and Memphis Grizzlies are all still waiting for theirs.

Geodis Park, with a modest sellout capacity of 30,109 seats, was well on its way to being full over an hour before kickoff and at $460 for a ticket on Row Z, who could blame fans wanting to soak in every moment? David Beckham came out onto the field in the buildup and posed for pictures with Victoria and the Mas brothers, his Miami co-owners, and waved up to a corner of rowdy Miami fans tucked away in the upper tier above the tunnel. 

About 20 feet away from Beckham, Giannis Antetokounmpo of the Milwaukee Bucks, one of the NBA’s biggest stars and a Nashville co-owner, had a penalty shootout with his brother as if the field was their own back yard. Reese Witherspoon, another Nashville co-owner, smiled away on the sideline for the cameras and brought the match ball onto the field before kickoff.

The first glimpse of Messi, as he led his Miami team out for warmups, was met with fierce boos. 

But Nashville is a place that knows a star when it sees one. The city that gave the world Johnny Cash, Taylor Swift and Dolly Parton leant the stage to a different star on Saturday night, one that this country is still learning just how incredible he is.

Yet there were still thousands of fans waiting in their seats long after the final whistle, as Messi celebrated with Beckham and his wife, Antonela Riccuzzo, just to catch a glimpse of their star man. They go again on Wednesday, in the US Open semifinal against Cincinnati. 

Few will bet against Messi and the Beckhams having more to celebrate before the season is out.

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