NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Lionel Messi scored early in regulation and converted the first shot in penalty kicks as Inter Miami 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 playing the ball.
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 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 and made a title-clinching stop.
“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 FC 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.
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.
AP soccer: https://apnews.Com/hub/soccer.