Without a goal and a win in their first two pre-season friendlies of the year, Lionel Messi’s Inter Miami traveled to Saudi Arabia to take on Al-Hilal in the 2024 Riyadh Season Cup on Monday night (January 29). The Herons finally ended their goal drought by scoring thrice in the glorified friendly at the Kingdom Arena, but the hosts had an extra gear at their disposal and deservedly secured a 4-3 victory.
Inter Miami Ripped Apart By Al-Hilal Attackers In The First Half
Major League Soccer (MLS) outfit Inter Miami enjoyed a bright start to the game on Monday. They attacked the final third a couple of times, with Messi going agonizingly close to finding former Barcelona teammate Jordi Alba with a dinked pass over the opposition defense. Unfortunately for the visitors, the Spaniard lacked the pace to get to the end of Messi’s lob and the ball rolled out for a goal kick.
Shortly after the encouraging bit of play, Inter Miami suffered the first blow of the game. Former Premier League ace Aleksander Mitrovic effortlessly took Sergej Milinkovic-Savic’s pass in his stride and guided the ball beyond Miami goalkeeper Drake Callender and into the bottom-right corner.
In the 13th minute, Al-Hilal went two goals to the good, with versatile attacking midfielder Abdullah Al Hamddan getting in on the action. From the ‘D’, the 24-year-old went for goal with a side-footed effort. Although it lacked power, it somehow deceived Callender, with the goalkeeper only managing a half-hearted dive as the ball took a deflection off the post and hit the back of the net.
One of the best strikers of the 21st century, Suarez scored his first goal in an Inter Miami jersey in the 34th minute. The Uruguayan showed superb awareness to reach the ball just outside the far post and then rolled it into an empty net. Suarez’s strike, however, did not dampen Al-Hilal’s spirit, as they restored their two-goal cushion thanks to a delicate header from Michael. The 27-year-old further tormented Barca/Messi supporters by recreating Cristiano Ronaldo‘s iconic ‘Siuu’ celebration.
Lionel Messi & Co. Show Fighting Spirit In Second 45
While the first half belonged to Al-Hilal, the second 45 was comfortably in Inter Miami’s pocket. The American outfit scored their second goal of the game in the 54th minute, with skipper Messi coolly dispatching a penalty after David Ruiz was brought down inside the Al-Hilal box.
Against all odds, Gerardo Martino’s side pulled the game back level in the 55th minute, thanks to a wonder strike from Ruiz. The spirited midfielder charged into the box from the inside-left channel, beat one defender with a pull-back, opened up a bit of space to shoot, and found the back of the net with a thumping strike.
Ultimately, however, the Vice City’s equalizer counted for naught, as Malcom ensured the hosts had the last laugh. In the 88th minute, left-back Yasir Al Shahrani delivered a peach of a cross for the former Barcelona winger to attack inside the box. Malcom directed his header straight at the Miami goalkeeper, but he could not keep it out. Down by a goal in the dying embers of the game, Inter Miami did not have any more fight left in them and unwillingly settled for a 4-3 defeat.
Messi and Co. will be back in action on Thursday night (February 1) for the most highly anticipated game of their pre-season tour, with them taking on Cristiano Ronaldo’s Al-Nassr at the Kingdom Arena. With both superstars in the twilight of their illustrious careers, it could be their final on-pitch meeting.