LIONEL Messi made a stunning start to his career in the United States of America by scoring a last-gasp winner on his debut for Inter Miami in the early hours of today.
After coming on as a second-half, the Argentine superstar won a free-kick in stoppage time, with the Leagues Cup match against Mexican club Cruz Azul at 1-1, and curled it beyond the wall and the goalkeeper into the net to earn his new side a 2-1 victory.
The capacity 20,000 crowd at Miami’s DRV PNK Stadium, which included famous faces like NBA great LeBron James, tennis legend Serena Williams and reality television superstar Kim Kardashian, went wild, with some fans running on to the field before being taken away by security.
Sergio Busquets, the Spanish midfielder and former Barca team-mate, who has joined Messi at Inter Miami, also had an impressive debut after they were both brought on in the 54th minute as part of a triple change with Venezuelan Josef Martinez.
“I knew I had to score, it was the last play of the game. I wanted to score so we didn’t go to penalties. It was very important for us to get this win, it’s a new tournament, it’s going to give us confidence moving forward,” seven-time Ballon d’Or winner Messi told reporters.
In the Leagues Cup, group teams are awarded a point each for a draw and then the winner of a penalty shoot-out gets an additional point, but Messi made sure Miami grabbed all three for a win.
Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham, who was also a superb free-kick taker in his playing days, was very happy with his new superstar arrival, who took the captain’s armband when he came on.
“To be honest, as soon as I saw the free kick given I thought this is the way it’s meant to end. Especially when you’ve got players like Leo and Sergio on the pitch, that’s what they produce,” the former England midfielder said.
“It’s so exciting tonight for our fans. All of these people that come down here to see Leo just step onto the pitch, let alone just do what he’s done. It’s a dream come true for everyone in this stadium to see.”
Hundreds of fans who filled up the stadium and paid high entrance fees wore replica pink Miami shirts with Messi’s name and No.10 on the back. Others sported Messi masks and banners.