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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Messi scores stoppage-time winner in Inter Miami debut

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Leagues Cup - Group J - Inter Miami v Cruz Azul - DRV PNK Stadium, Fort Lauderdale, Florida, United States - July 21, 2023 Inter Miami's Lionel Messi scores their second goal from a free kick REUTERS/Marco Bello

Lionel Messi made a rousing debut for Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami as he scored a stoppage-time winner to beat Liga MX’s Cruz Azul 2-1 on Friday in their Leagues Cup opener in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.

Messi drew a foul about 25 yards from goal in the dying seconds and stepped up to deliver what everyone came to see as his free kick sailed into the top left corner and sent the crowd into delirium.

After the goal, Messi ran toward the right corner of the field with his arms spread wide and then headed to the sidelines on the other side where he shared a hug with his family.

“I knew I had to score, it was the last play of the game and I had to score so we didn’t’ go to penalties,” Messi said on the broadcast through a translator.

“It was very important for us to get this win because it’s a new tournament and it’s going to give us confidence moving forward.”

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With four-times NBA champion LeBron James, tennis great Serena Williams and reality television star Kim Kardashian among those in the sold-out crowd, Messi entered the game as a second-half substitute to a rousing ovation with Miami ahead 1-0.

Messi was introduced as “the world’s number 10” when he came into the game in the 54th minute, slipped the captain’s armband on his left arm and sent the crowd into a frenzy whenever he touched the ball.

The seven-times Ballon d’Or winner did not take long to make his presence felt as he eluded some Cruz Azul defenders and led an attack down the right side, one of many chances he created on the night.

‘DREAM COME TRUE’

At one point, Messi ran into a Cruz Azul player in the box and fell to the ground and while his team and supporters wanted a penalty the referee immediately wagged his finger, denying the Argentine a chance at a spot kick.

The 36-year-old then set up what appeared to be the winning goal in the 89th minute but Martinez, who tapped the ball into the net, was ruled offside.

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But Messi, seven months removed from leading Argentina to World Cup glory in Qatar, got his chance to shine once again.

“As soon as I saw the free kick given I thought this is the way it’s meant to end,” said Inter Miami co-owner David Beckham. “It’s so exciting tonight for our fans. All of these people that have come down here to see Leo just step on the pitch, let alone just do what he’s done.

“It’s a dream come true for everybody in this stadium and everybody around this country to see Leo step into the MLS and perform and I don’t have many words for that.”

Messi’s Miami debut coincidentally came 16 years to the day after Beckham played his first game for MLS side LA Galaxy.

The euphoria over Messi’s arrival in South Florida reached a fever pitch as restaurants are offering food and drink options named after him while murals depicting his likeness have popped up all around Miami.

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It has been a whirlwind week for Messi, whose arrival at MLS is a huge boost for the profile of soccer in the United States, which will co-host the 2026 World Cup with Mexico and Canada.

Messi’s 2-1/2 year contract with Miami was made official last Saturday. A day later he was introduced to the club’s supporters at a glitzy welcome party, and on Tuesday he took part in his first full training session with the club.

Inter Miami close out the two-game group stage on Tuesday when they host Atlanta United with hopes of advancing to the knockout stages of the Leagues Cup, which is a World Cup-style tournament featuring all teams from MLS and Mexico’s Liga MX.

-Reuters

 

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Kunle Solaja is the author of landmark books on sports and journalism as well as being a multiple award-winning journalist and editor of long standing. He is easily Nigeria’s foremost soccer diarist and Africa's most capped FIFA World Cup journalist, having attended all FIFA World Cup finals from Italia ’90 to Qatar 2022. He was honoured at the Qatar 2022 World Cup by FIFA and AIPS.

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Nigeria’s Flamingos drawn against debuting hosts in FIFA U-17 World Cup

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The Flamingos, Nigeria’s U-17 women’s football team have been drawn against hosts, Dominican Republic for the finals of the Women’s U-17 World Cup holding from 16 October to 3 November in two host cities of Santo Domingo  and Santiago de los Caballeros.

 Both Nigeria and Dominican Republic are drawn in Group A along with Ecuador and New Zealand.  In Group B are Spain, USA, Korea Republic and Colombia.

Group C has  Korea DPR, Mexico, Kenya and England while those competing in Group D are  Japan , Poland, Brazil and Zambia.

The hosts will make their debut in the competition on 16 October against Ecuador in Santiago de los Caballeros, with New Zealand and Nigeria completing Group A.

Herrera, the first Dominican woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest, had a special message for her compatriots taking part in the World Cup. She said: “I am the living example that you can achieve your dreams. So, keep up the good work. I am looking forward to seeing those amazing games.”

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Reigning champions Spain, meanwhile, will kick off their campaign in Group B, in which they will face USA, Korea Republic and Colombia, runners-up last time around.

“The advice to all the players that will participate here is to be confident and go live your dream. ¡Y Buena suerte!” said Flores, who took part in this tournament two years ago in India.

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

Dominican Republic 2024:Flamingos land in the Dominican Republic!

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Nigeria’s U17 girls, Flamingos, have secured their ticket to the 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals to be staged in the Dominican Republic later this year, after a 2-0 defeat of their Liberian counterparts at the MKO Abiola National Stadium, Abuja on Friday.

Victory took the aggregate tally to 6-1 in favour of Nigeria, with extraordinary poacher Harmony Chidi setting a record of 13 goals in a qualifying series that will be difficult to equal in years to come. She had 11 goals before kick-off, but netted the two goals of the evening to take Nigeria’s total of the series to a whopping 25. Central African Republic fell by a dozen goals while Burkina Faso fell 1-7 on aggregate.

Her first came after only four minutes when she sped past the Liberian defence to toe-poke the ball beyond the flailing arms of goalkeeper Makula Konneh from a cross by Shakirat Moshood.

A goal feast was expected, but this did not happen, as Peace Effiong had a close call in the 17th and Moshood rocked the crossbar a minute after from 20 yards. Moshood also missed from close range with 10 minutes left of the first half.

In the 56th minute, Moshood blasted beyond the goalpost when faced with Konneh, but Harmony Chidi made sure of her brace seven minutes later when she lashed the ball beyond Konneh’s reach as Nigeria seized the ball from a defensive slip-up by the visitors.

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The 8th FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup finals will be staged in the cities of Santiago de los Caballeros and Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic, 16th October – 3rd November.

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WOMEN'S FOOTBALL

‘It shall be showers of goals’, vows Flamingos ahead of Liberia clash

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Head Coach Bankole Olowookere is confident that the Nigeria U17 girls, Flamingos, will not take their feet off the pedal when they take on their Liberian counterparts in a FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup final qualifying match in Abuja on Friday.

“We are battle-ready for the match on Friday. The girls are raring to go because they want to go to the World Cup. They are already dreaming of flying to the Dominican Republic.

“There is so much excitement in camp, and they are self-assured. However, I have warned them that it is never over until it is over. There should be no display of over-confidence on the pitch. We must approach the match like the first leg was a drawn game.”

Nigeria won the first leg 4-1 in Monrovia on Sunday, with 11-goal qualifying series revelation Harmony Chidi, Shakirat Moshood, Peace Effiong and substitute Blessing Ifitezue banging in the goals for the Flamingos. The hosts got their consolation goal off a penalty awarded with five minutes left of the encounter at the Samuel Kanyon Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville.

The Flamingos will take part in the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup for the seventh time once they cross Friday’s hurdle.

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They featured at the inaugural edition in New Zealand in 2008, and subsequently at Trinidad and Tobago 2010, Azerbaijan 2012, Costa Rica 2014, Jordan 2016 and India 2022, where they won the bronze medals.  

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