NASHVILLE, Tennessee – Lionel Messi scored early in regulation and converted the first penalty shot as Inter Miami beat Nashville SC 10-9 on penalties in the League Cup final on Saturday night.
Messi scored for the tenth time in seven games since joining Inter Miami – all in the League Cup competition – converting in the 23rd minute.
The ball landed at Messi’s feet after a pass from teammate Robert Taylor. Messi dribbled past Nashville defender Walker Zimmerman and curled a shot from just outside the penalty area into the top left corner of the goal. Goalkeeper Eliot Panico did not have a chance to save the ball.
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Messi wasn’t particularly impressive before he scored, and the crowd booed him every time he touched the ball. But the stadium erupted into cheers when the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner, who led Argentina to last year’s World Cup crown, scored.
Nashville tied the game in the 56th minute when Fava Picoult’s header from a rebound corner kick from Miami’s Benjamin Cremaschi hit goalkeeper Drake Callender.
Messi hit a shot from the area he had scored earlier in the 71st minute, but hit the post as the two teams played to a 1-1 draw in regulation.
Miami forward Leonardo Campana had a chance to win the game on the last play in regulation, but his sliding shot on an open goal hit the post. Messi put his head in his hands as the ball went out of play.
Messi calmly converted the first shot in the penalty shootout, and it was Callender who scored the go-ahead and stopped the title decider.
“It is an honor to play a part in our first victory in the final,” said Callender. “It’s so surreal. So emotional. This team works so hard in every day, day out to be able to perform like this on a night like this. And to bring it through to the end, it was amazing to see the perseverance, just the belief in what we’re capable of. It’s something special.” And I’m lucky to be a part of it.”
Callender said he tried to stay as calm as possible during the 11 rounds of penalties.
“I just had to stay focused, breathe through it, and stay as calm as possible,” he said. “I mean, this atmosphere here tonight is electric. So I embraced the moment and just believed in the work I had done and the iterations I had done in the lead up to that moment, and it just ended up getting in our way.”
Messi obsession gripped Music City after Nashville advanced to the final against Miami with a win over Monterrey of the Mexican League on Tuesday. Ticket prices skyrocketed after they went on sale the next day but fell somewhat in the days leading up to the match. The cheapest seats still cost several hundred dollars. A capacity crowd of 30,109 filled Geodis Park.
“I have to say from where I sat, I felt as if we were able to put ourselves in a situation at the end where we might have stolen it,” Nashville coach Gary Smith said after the game. “I thought we were the slightly better team. You look, again, the greatest player on the planet is probably the difference in what happened today.
“But if you look across the championship, and what this Miami team has been able to do to other teams, the confidence that they play with, [I’m] Very proud of what the guys have produced. And of course, to come back and bring ourselves up to the level and really look forward to trying to win the game as well, in what was a very good final.”
Nashville’s Reese Witherspoon brought the game ball and two-time NBA Most Valuable Player Giannis Antetokounmpo hit some shots on goal before the game. They both own a minority in Nashville SC.
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