Lionel Messi scores incredible late winner in stunning Inter Miami debut | The Sun

LIONEL Messi began his American adventure with a Hollywood ending by scoring a stunning last-gasp winner.

The Argentine superstar came off the bench for new team Inter Miami to send the fans in Fort Lauderdale into blast-off as he stole a Leagues Cup win over Mexicans Cruz Azul with the last kick of the game.

Brought down from behind 25 yards out by Carlos Salcedo, it was the perfect set-up for a moment of brilliance.

And Messi, as so often, did not disappoint, arcing his left-footer over the wall and beyond the grasping, flailing fingers of keeper Andres Gudino.

Even Messi’s smile betrayed his awareness of the impact he had made in his new adopted home, with Inter part-owner David Beckham and his wife Victoria among the many shaking their heads.

As Messi hugged old pal Sergio Busquets, before joining his new team-mates on a parade of honour, there were still gasps of wonder echoing around the DRV PNK Stadium.

But then again, we have all been left open-mouthed by Messi on so many occasions, it is probably right that a new generation of fans get the chance to share that emotion.

The celebrations of the supporters were not as joyful as those of the Argentine fans in Doha seven months ago yet will feel equally memorable.

They had been calling for him with chants of “Messi, Messi, Messi” just 40 seconds into the game and finally got their way after 53  minutes.

As he appeared on the touchline, pretty in pink, there was a wave of noise, a roar of almost disbelief.

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For many of the fans, it would still seem inconceivable.

But yes, that was Messi, Lionel Messi, THE Lionel Messi, replacing Miami-born Argentina youth midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, getting a handshake from the REFEREE as he entered the fray.

His first touch was trademark, leaving his marker for dead and laying back to back one-twos to advance 30 yards in the blink of an eye.

Messi was accompanied on to the pitch by his former Barcelona team-mate Busquets – and Inter arguably need the Spaniard more than the Argentine.

Indeed, quite what Messi and Busquets would have made of the first 40 minutes or so would be interesting to know.

Cruz Azul are winless and pointless and stand bottom of the Liga MX standings – with just one scored – after three games so far.

But they should have put the game to bed inside the first 20, only poor finishing, the heroics of Miami keeper Drake Callender and the woodwork keeping the match alive.

It was far too obvious why Miami had not won in 11 games since May 13, shambolic defensively and carrying all the punch of an alcohol-free cocktail.

Yet, from nowhere, they went in front just before the break, with Robert Taylor – a Finnish international but with an English dad and who had youth spells at Nottingham Forest and Lincoln – cutting in from the left to find the net off the inside of the far post.

They didn’t deserve it. But it wasn’t about that.

It was only about one man. 

After all, Miami Royalty – in the form of Lebron James, Serena Williams and Kim Kardashian – would not have been in attendance to pay homage to anybody. The new King of Florida is a different story.

Cruz Azul seemed transfixed for a spell, determined to treat him as so special they did not want to get close, letting Messi wander wherever he wanted to go as he dropped into pockets of space.

When Mexico winger Uriel Antuna rifled the equaliser through the arms of the keeper, Messi puffed out his cheeks, knowing he was under even more expectations.

Demanding the ball, he almost played in ex-Spurs and Newcastle full-back DeAndre Yedlin, received from Busquets only for his shot to be deflected softly into the keeper’s chest and then sent striker Josef Martinez through on goal only for him to go too wide.

Messi was smashed to the ground as he attempted to get on the end of Busquets’ return ball, getting groggily to his feet as the referee turned his back on the pleas for a penalty.

He kept on making the runs, recreating that Camp Nou link-up with Busquets once more but crowded out, flagged – correctly – before setting up a tap-in for Martinez, who then himself went too early as the crowd thought the moment had come.

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But once the free-kick was awarded – it was a little on the soft side – there was an inevitability about what was to follow.

The Greatest knows what sets him apart. His timing, as so often, was truly impeccable. Welcome to America, Lio.

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