MIAMI – The sights and sounds told the story Friday evening in San Salvador, as Inter Miami CF took on El Salvador’s national team to kick off its 2024 preseason.
For weeks, there had been unprecedented buzz about the match and the fact that Lionel Messi, considered by many to be the best player in the history of the sport, would play.
Thousands of local fans, many of whom wore Messi jerseys, welcomed each Miami player as they took to the field of a sold-out Cuscatlán Stadium.
One of the highlights of the evening for soccer lovers around the world had to be when El Salvador’s own, legendary Jorge Alberto “El Mágico” González took to the field to perform the initial kick-off as part of the pre-game ceremony.
El Mágico, whom Argentinian soccer legend Diego Armando Maradona called one of the best players he had ever seen, “Bigger than Pelé and myself,” was met with deafening cheers, especially when none other than Messi spotted him and came over to greet him.
Earlier, hundreds of fans welcomed Inter Miami to their hotel, as players stepped off modern buses painted in Inter Miami colors that took the squad from the airport to their hotel.
El Salvador literally rolled out the red carpet for the Miami side. As players stepped off the plane, upon arrival, they were met with a red carpet usually reserved for heads of state or dignitaries of note.
Messi started the game with former Barcelona teammates Luis Suarez, Sergio Busquets and Jordi Alba who played a full 45 minutes.
At the start of the second half, Inter Miami head coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino brought in subs Facundo Farías, Leonardo Campana, Chris McVey and David Ruiz, replacing Messi, Suarez, Busquets, and Alba.
The game would end in a scoreless draw.
Cuzclatán Stadium can hold up to 53,400 spectators and they were treated to an entertaining match that saw many goal opportunities for both sides.
Tickets for the much-anticipated match ranged from $200 to $475, though prices probably went for much more through third-party vendors.
In all, Inter Miami CF is scheduled to play six other preseason matches. Messi is scheduled to clash against his long-time Spanish League rival, Portuguese Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7) when they face in Saudi Arabia on February 1st.
Inter Miami will also host Argentina’s Newell’s Old Boys on February 15. Before Messi joined Barcelona, he was in the Rosario-based club youth ranks. Through the years, Messi has said that there is a special place in his heart for his boyhood club.
Here is the rest of their pre-season schedule:
Jan. 22 (6 pm ET) Inter Miami vs. FC Dallas Cotton Bowl Stadium (Dallas, Texas)
Jan. 29 (1 pm ET) Inter Miami vs. Al Hilal SFC Kingdom Arena (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
Feb. 1 (1 pm ET) Inter Miami vs. Al Nassr FC Kingdom Arena (Riyadh, Saudi Arabia)
Feb. 4 (time TBA) Inter Miami vs. Hong Kong Team Hong Kong Stadium (Hong Kong)
Feb. 7 (time TBA) Inter Miami vs. Vissel Kobe Japan National Stadium (Tokyo, Japan)
Feb. 15 (time TBA) Inter Miami vs. Newell’s Old Boys DRV PNK Stadium (Fort Lauderdale)
Messi won his eighthlast year in Paris after captaining Argentina’s victorious World Cup campaign on December 18, 2022, the biggest title of Inter Miami’s captain to date.