Lionel Messi and Inter Miami break Nashville hearts with Leagues Cup final win

With the whole world watching, Nashville SC’s plan to stop Lionel Messi in Saturday night’s Leagues Cup final defeat was really more of a mindset: be itself. The club didn’t want to divert from the tactics that brought it to this point — not even to account for arguably the greatest player of all time.

“I think everything is about confidence, trying to give the confidence, trying to believe in all the work [we’ve] done in the past couple games,” said midfielder Anibal Godoy before the match. “We don’t need to change too much in the way we play … We don’t need to change too much, because if we start to think too much about individual players like Messi, Busquets, or Jordi Alba, or all the players we have, we can [get] in trouble, because it’s difficult to change [our identity].”

The club lost a penalty shootout 10-9 after regular time ended 1-1, but Nashville’s bold plan largely succeeded. It maintained its high-pressure approach to isolate the visitors’ front line from the midfield. Godoy and Co. made a valiant effort, though they conceded to the MLS newcomer in the first half.

Having been contained for the first 22 minutes, unable to receive the ball without dropping deep, Messi ran onto a loose ball bouncing out of the box. Nashville center-back Walker Zimmerman expected him to rush his touch, so he enthusiastically burst ahead to close out the forward.

Don’t miss…
Man Utd transfer news LIVE as Greenwood announcement date set and move agreed[LATEST]
TNT Sports free trial: Can you watch relaunched BT Sports channel without paying[LATEST]
Alex Scott’s love life – from dating Lioness and Corrie star to co-host’s advice[LATEST]

Messi viewed that as a vulnerability, calmly feinting past him. And no one was stopping the ensuing long-range shot, a missile whipped with his legendary left foot. It was Messi’s seventh straight game with a goal in his dream start to his U.S. career. The 36-year-old ended the tournament with 10.

But Nashville kept pushing ahead and was rewarded in the 57th minute when Fafa Picault deflected in a hectic corner kick. After Messi dented the post in the 67th minute, Nashville nearly executed the perfect counter-attack as reigning MVP Hany Mukhtar set up Sam Surridge, but Drake Callender blocked his would-be go-ahead goal.

The hosts almost took the lead twice in stoppage time before nearly having their hearts broken when Inter Miami’s Leo Campana broke free the other way. Campana couldn’t convert into a gaping net, though, the ball sliding just out of reach as he tried to angle a sliding shot toward the target.

We use your sign-up to provide content in ways you’ve consented to and to improve our understanding of you. This may include adverts from us and 3rd parties based on our understanding. You can unsubscribe at any time. More info

Messi converted his spot kick in a wild shootout that needed Callender, the goalkeeper, to power into the net and block his counterpart, Elliot Panicco. He’s now the most decorated player of all time with 44 trophies.

It’s easy to forget just how dire the circumstances were at Inter Miami before Messi arrived. The team lost eight of 11 games. It entered this tournament occupying last place in the Eastern Conference.

Messi’s presence, his aura, has altered how the David Beckham-owned organization operates. Compared to Paris Saint-Germain, where he never felt appreciated, the Argentina legend loves how Inter Miami has welcomed him with open arms.

“You see it in the field; I don’t have to tell you, but he’s a lot calmer, much happier,” said head coach Gerardo Martino. “Being happy also has to do with where he’s been.”

When Messi is at peace — as he has been in MLS and as he was at the 2022 World Cup — it’s near impossible to stop him. In the Leagues Cup semi-final, the Philadelphia Union bent its formation out of shape and couldn’t keep him contained. Nashville was itself. In the end, that wasn’t enough.

Source: Read Full Article