Dreams become reality eventually.
And Friday at DRV PNK Stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida was one of those moments that football fans will remember forever.
Lionel Messi made his Inter Miami debut and scored the winning goal in stoppage time. His left boot was out of the penalty area, a magical free kick and there was nothing left for Cruz Azul goalkeeper Andres Gudinho but to become an unfortunate part of the highlight.
This night, this moment, is what Miami has been waiting for since joining Major League Soccer. Associated with some of the biggest stars throughout the year, not many of them came to fruition. But Messi and his friends are in South Florida now, and the era has officially begun with an epic 2-1 victory over Liga MX club Cruz Azul that kicked off the League Cup.
“I knew this was the last game and I was hoping to score a goal to avoid a penalty and earn three points as it was a decisive match for us to start the new tournament with a win,” Messi told Apple TV after the match. “It’s important to start this way for confidence in the group, which has been doing very well since I joined.”
Throughout the week of waiting for his debut, it was discussed how many minutes he would play. This, of course, always depended on the course of the game, but head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino was most shocked when he made a substitution in the 54th minute, releasing Messi, Busquets and Josef Martinez.
The roar at the sold-out DRV PNK stadium in Fort Lauderdale was epic. Messi’s first touch of the ball was a silky sequence that we’ve all seen many times – running, rebounding, and he just waded forward across the field. He got to the baseline and ended up losing the ball, but it was a moment.
Everything around Messi is always like that.
His jerseys were galore in the stands, and not only in Miami’s pink and black jerseys, but in the iconic blue jerseys of Albicelesta Argentina. All night pink flags with his silhouette and name fluttered.
But this game, despite the outcome, was really only about one thing.
Inter Miami were in disarray in the first half, as they were for most of the season. There were losses, too many gaps in midfield and a lousy defense. However, shortly before the break, Robert Taylor hit the ball from afar and put the hosts ahead 1:0.
Messi approved, smiling from the bench. It wasn’t hard to see how emotional he was as the cameras rolled on him every few minutes.
But he changed the game as soon as he took the field and donned the captain’s armband in the second half.
Cleaner touches, more open space and attacking threat. Busquets obviously had a lot to do with it, as he delegated authority in midfield, as he has done so eloquently for years. But in reality, it was in the 65th minute when Miami guard Kamal Miller left too much room in the box for Uriel Antuna in the box as forward Cruz Azul spun around and equalized.
With stars like LeBron James and Serena Williams, greatness always wins in the building. And if you look up the definition of greatness, there might be an image of Lionel Messi.
That’s why he is considered the greatest player of all time.
On Friday, he once again reminded the world that he really is that guy.
Discuss anything and with whom you want, he will just keep doing these things.
And now Inter Miami, among others, is getting the opportunity to reap the rewards.
Welcome to Messi Football League. Enjoy the ride.