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The Argentinian player has come on as a second-half substitute to make his Inter Miami debut against Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup. The match is currently level at 2-1.
Lionel Messi is now, officially, an Inter Miami player. The seven-time Ballon d’Or winner as the world’s best player checked in for his new Major League football club for the first time on Friday night, coming in early in the second half of Inter Miami’s game against Cruz Azul in the Leagues Cup tournament. He hugged the player he was replacing, midfielder Benjamin Cremaschi, then trotted onto the field as the estimated crowd of 21,000 all seemed to be standing, almost all of them with phones out to chronicle the moment..
Messi wasn’t in the starting lineup and came on with his team leading 1-0. Nobody even left their seats when the halftime whistle blew. The reason: Messi was on the field. He warmed up for about 5 minutes during intermission with the other reserves before they all left for the locker room.
That’s when the fans, finally, could put their phones down and take a breath. Temporarily, anyway. The wait was officially on: When was Messi coming in? He resumed warmups while the second half was getting underway, jogging around behind the end line near Miami’s supporter section, and fans roared in delight when he gave them a wave. And about eight minutes into the second half, the answer: It was Messi time.
The first Inter Miami goal of the Messi era was scored by Robert Taylor, who took a long cross from Robbie Robinson, moved into the box, and sent a low drive off the inside of the far post and into the back of the net for a 1-0 lead late in the first half. He scored at the 94′, winning the game for Inter Miami with a perfect free kick.
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About 21,000 tickets sold
Team officials said all tickets — about 21,000, in a newly expanded stadium — were sold. Almost every seat was filled, many by people wearing newly acquired Miami jerseys with Messi’s name on the back. They chanted his name a few times and waved flags bearing his name and number.
It took Inter Miami four years of planning and two years of actual pursuing to bring Messi to the club. “Worth it,” co-owner David Beckham said earlier in the week. Messi signed a 2 1/2-year contract with the team that will pay him between $50 million and $60 million annually — and almost certainly more than $1 million per match. Some fans paid well over $1,000 for tickets to Friday’s match, though the price on the resale market was dropping considerably in the hours before game time.
Beckham was on the field about three hours before game time, taking a video with his phone as he scanned the empty seats. Messi jerseys were stocked at the team store inside the stadium, and entrepreneurs were selling unofficial Messi jerseys on the road leading to the venue.