Lionel Messi announced himself to North America with a late winner for Inter Miami in their 2-1 Leagues Cup win over Mexican side Cruz Azul.
Having completed a move to Inter Miami alongside Sergio Busquets this summer, Messi started on the bench for his new team as the stars trooped to the DRV PNK Stadium to watch him for the first time in South Florida. LeBron James, Serena Williams, Sergio Aguero and many more were in the stadium for his debut.
The Mexican side were clearly superior but found a brick wall in Inter Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender between the sticks. They dominated proceedings but failed to find a way to open the scoring.
Almost against the run of play, Inter Miami took the lead in the 44th minute when Finnish forward Robert Taylor crashed in an effort via the upright to open the scoring.
Cruz Azul returned for the second half re-energised and continued to put pressure on the Inter Miami goal without success.
With 54 minutes on the clock, Inter Miami manager Gérardo Martino signalled to the trio of Messi, Busquets and Josef Martinez to get off the bench, and Messi replaced 18-year-old Argentina youth international Benjamin Cremaschi. He immediately took on the captain’s armband.
Cruz Azul continued to ask questions and ten minutes later, found an equaliser. Mexican winger Uriel Antuna was found in space in the box, and the 25-year-old swivelled before rifling an unstoppable effort past Callender, who got a palm to the ball but could not keep it out.
Inter Miami pushed for a winner as they were keen to end their 11-game winless run, but an offside flag denied Martinez after he had been set up by Messi.
With seconds left in the match, Messi was bundled to the ground 25 yards from goal. The Argentine great set down the ball before curling a delicious effort over the wall and into the top corner to score the winner for his side and give them all three points from their Leagues Cup opener.
It was a good first outing for Messi and Busquets with Inter Miami, and the pair are set to be joined by Jordi Alba in the coming weeks.