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Messi’s return fails to rescue Inter Miami as Cincinnati dash their MLS playoffs hopes


Lionel Messi and Inter Miami’s playoff hopes were extinguished as they suffered a 1-0 defeat at the hands of FC Cincinnati on Saturday night in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. 

Argentine forward Alvaro Barreal proved to be the hero for Cincinnati, netting the decisive goal in the 78th minute.

Messi, making his long-awaited return from a leg injury that had sidelined him since September 20, entered the game as a substitute in the 55th minute. However, despite his presence, Inter Miami (9-17-6, 33 points) couldn’t find the back of the net, sealing their elimination from playoff contention. 

With other results working against them, Miami now find themselves near the bottom of the Eastern Conference, trailing the last playoff spot by seven points with just two matches remaining.

FC Cincinnati (20-5-8, 68 points) continued their remarkable season, adding to their already impressive campaign by clinching the Supporters’ Shield for the best regular-season record in the league.

Despite controlling the game’s possession with 61.6 percent, Inter Miami struggled to convert chances into goals, managing only two shots on target out of 16 attempts. In a scoreless first half, they came agonisingly close on three occasions, striking the woodwork with efforts from Tomas Aviles, Josef Martinez, and Benjamin Cremaschi.

Messi’s introduction added flair to Miami’s attack, but his free-kick attempt in the 59th minute soared over the crossbar.

FC Cincinnati finally broke through when Barreal capitalised on a parried shot by Miami’s goalkeeper, Drake Callender, slotting home his fifth goal of the season.

Despite Messi’s late attempts, including a left-footed shot and two late fouls near the box, Cincinnati held on for the win, ending Miami’s playoff aspirations.

The defeat marked another setback for Inter Miami, who had been riding high after winning the Leagues Cup in August. However, without Messi’s magic, their season took a different turn, losing their US Open Cup final and falling out of playoff contention in the league.

As Messi faces an international call-up for Argentina’s upcoming World Cup qualifiers, Miami’s final two matches, both against Charlotte, may offer some consolation, but the road ahead remains uncertain for the team.

In a related note, Wayne Rooney’s D.C. United saw their playoff hopes dashed despite a 2-0 victory over New York City FC in their final match of the season.

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