Messi scores as Inter Miami lift Leagues Cup


Inter Miami wins Leagues Cup in incredible 11-round PK shootout

Inter Miami keeper Drake Callender scores and makes the decisive save on Nashville SC keeper Elliot Panicco to win the Leagues Cup.

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Lionel Messi scored early in regulation and converted the first shot in penalty kicks as Inter Miami CF beat Nashville SC 10-9 on penalties in the Leagues Cup final on Saturday night.

Messi scored for the 10th time in seven games since joining Inter Miami -- all in the Leagues Cup competition -- converting in the 23rd minute.

The ball landed at Messi's feet after a pass from teammate Robert Taylor was blocked. Messi dribbled past Nashville defender Walker Zimmerman and unleashed a bending shot from just outside the penalty box into the top left corner of the goal. Diving goalkeeper Elliot Panicco had no chance at saving the ball.

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Messi wasn't particularly influential before he scored the goal, and the crowd showered him with boos each time he touched the ball. But the stadium erupted in cheers when the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner, who led Argentina to the World Cup crown last year, scored.

Nashville tied the game in the 56th minute when Fafa Picault's header off a corner kick ricocheted off Miami's Benjamin Cremaschi and into the net off goalkeeper Drake Callender.

Messi had a shot from the area he had scored from earlier in the 71st minute, but he hit the post as the teams played to a 1-1 draw in regulation.

Miami striker Leonardo Campana had a chance to win the game in the last play in regulation, but his sliding shot on an open goal hit the post. Messi held his head in his hands when the ball trickled out of play.

Messi calmly converted the first shot in penalties, and it was Callender who scored the go-ahead PK and made a title-clinching stop.

Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi
Vasha Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

"It's a huge honor to play a role in our first win in a final," Callender said. "It's pretty surreal. Very emotional. This team works so hard day-in, day-out to be able to perform like this on a night like this. And to have it come down to the very end, it was amazing to see the grit, just the belief of what we're capable of. It's something special and I'm just blessed to be a part of it."

Callender said he tried to stay as calm as possible through the 11 rounds of penalties.

"I just had to stay focused, breathe through it, stay as calm as possible," he said. "I mean, this atmosphere here tonight is electric. So I embraced the moment and I just believed in the work that I put in and the repetitions I put in leading up to that moment, and it just ended up going our way."

Messi mania had gripped Music City after Nashville SC advanced to the final against Miami with a win against Monterrey of the Mexican league on Tuesday. Ticket prices skyrocketed after they went on sale the following day but eased somewhat in the days before the game. 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 though we were able to put ourselves in a position in the end where we might have stolen it," Nashville boss Gary Smith said after the match. "I thought we were slightly the better side. You're looking at, again, the greatest player on the planet possibly being the difference in what went on today.

"But if you look across the tournament and, and what this Miami side has been able to do to other teams, confidence they're playing with, [I'm] incredibly proud of what the guys have produced. And of course, to come back and get ourselves on level terms and really look to try and win the game as well in, in what was a very, very good final."

Nashville native Reese Witherspoon brought out the game ball and two-time NBA MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo took some shots on goal before the game. Both are minority owners of Nashville SC.