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Lionel Messi’s Absence Felt as Inter Miami Taste First Champions Cup Defeat



The highly-anticipated clash between Inter Miami and Mexican giants Monterrey lived up to its billing, with the home side putting up a valiant fight before ultimately succumbing to a 2-1 defeat in the first leg of their Champions Cup quarter final tie. The absence of talismanic forward Lionel Messi, who missed his fourth consecutive game due to a hamstring strain, loomed large over the proceedings at the Chase Stadium in Fort Lauderdale.

From the outset, the atmosphere was electric, with a sizable contingent of Monterrey fans making their presence felt in the stands, their chants echoing throughout the night. The build-up to the game had been nothing short of a spectacle, with Mexican TV and radio networks providing live coverage all day, reflecting the immense interest surrounding the clash between the MLS side and the Mexican powerhouse.

Inter Miami, however, refused to be intimidated by the occasion or their illustrious opponents. For 68 minutes, they looked every bit the equals of Monterrey, taking the lead through a well-worked corner kick finished off by center-back Tomas Aviles in the 19th minute. The men in pink pressed their opponents relentlessly, controlling the midfield and denying Monterrey any sustained possession.

“I thought for 70 minutes we did well,” Inter Miami coach Tata Martino said after the game. “I thought we could have scored a second goal in the first half. Considering that Monterrey had a full roster and we were missing key players, I liked how we competed.”

The tide turned, however, in the 65th minute when Inter Miami’s David Ruiz, the 20-year-old Little Havana native, received his marching orders after an ill-advised foul on Maximiliano Meza. Martino acknowledged the challenge of playing with a man down against a team of Monterrey’s caliber.

“When you are playing a quality opponent where when [Hector] Moreno comes out, he is replaced by a player from the Chilean national team, and Mexican national team players are coming off the bench, you have to be very aware, very solid and not commit errors,” Martino said.

Monterrey wasted little time in capitalizing on their numerical advantage, with Meza finding the equalizer just four minutes after Ruiz’s dismissal. The visitors then completed the turnaround in the 89th minute, as Jorge Rodriguez pounced on a sloppy pass from Diego Gomez to slot home the winner.

As the final whistle blew, the Monterrey faithful erupted in jubilant chants of “Messi Tuvo Miedo!” (Messi Was Scared!), a taunt directed at the Argentine superstar’s absence from the high-profile encounter.

While the loss was undoubtedly a bitter pill to swallow for Inter Miami, Martino remained philosophical, acknowledging the learning curve his young side is navigating.

“Everything is a learning experience, and David is a very young player,” Martino said of Ruiz’s dismissal. “He is a very enthusiastic player who wants to keep learning. Because of circumstances, he found himself starting in a game of this importance. While he was on the field, I thought he played well, and the expulsion was also a learning experience. These mistakes you make in your youth can serve you for the rest of your career.”

As for Messi’s availability for the return leg in Monterrey next Wednesday, Martino remained cautiously optimistic.

“We had said Leo will be day-to-day, and he was not ready to play today, it would have been too much of a risk,” Martino explained. “He is feeling better each day, and we will re-evaluate for the Colorado game (on Saturday) and the return leg against Monterrey next week.”

Monterrey coach Fernando Ortiz, for his part, expressed disappointment at missing out on the opportunity to pit his side against the legendary Argentine but remained hopeful that Messi would feature in the second leg.

“We were hoping he would play; I have said and will say again he is the best player in the world of all time,” Ortiz said. “He couldn’t be here. Hopefully, he will be there for the return leg, and we can enjoy him, and do what we have to do to advance to the next round.”

Despite the setback, Inter Miami can take heart from their performance against one of the strongest teams in the competition. Their ability to control large portions of the game, even in Messi’s absence, bodes well for their future prospects.

Moreover, the tie remains delicately poised, with the away goals rule potentially coming into play should the aggregate score remain level after the return leg. Martino’s men will undoubtedly be buoyed by the prospect of Messi’s return, which could tilt the scales in their favor as they look to overturn the deficit and book their place in the semifinals.

For the neutral observer, the prospect of witnessing Messi grace the field against Monterrey is a tantalizing one, adding an extra layer of intrigue to an already enthralling tie. Regardless of the outcome, the clash between Inter Miami and Monterrey has already captured the imagination of football fans across the Americas, a testament to the growing stature of the MLS and the enduring appeal of the beautiful game.

As the teams prepare for the decisive second leg, one thing is certain: the world will be watching, eagerly anticipating another chapter in the storied career of one of the greatest players to ever grace the pitch, and the continued rise of Inter Miami as a force to be reckoned with in the ever-evolving landscape of North American football.

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