Inter Miami CF were crowned inaugural champions of Leagues Cup 2023 in an exciting final showdown. The 90 minutes were not enough for Nashville SC and the Florida team to secure a decisive advantage, resulting in a 1-1 draw. In the penalty shootout, the parity continued, and Drake Callender became the hero by converting the tenth penalty and saving the following one.
Lionel Messi opened the scoring at the 23rd minute, boosting the offensive efforts of Inter Miami CF. However, it wasn't enough to gain a significant lead on the scoreboard. The match was a back-and-forth affair, and it wasn't until the 53rd minute that Nashville SC managed to equalize. Fafa Picault was the hero of the moment for the Tennessee side.
Despite possession of the ball being evenly distributed, the home team started creating clearer chances. In extra time, Callender demonstrated why he was awarded the title of the best goalkeeper of Leagues Cup 2023, making a save against Hany Mukhtar at the 92nd minute and another against Sam Surridge at the 93rd minute.
After an intense match, the tie persisted through the additional 3 minutes of stoppage time, and referee Ismail Elfath concluded the match in Tennessee. The penalty shootout began.
Lionel Messi scored the first penalty, and Mukhtar did the same. Sergio Busquets converted the second penalty for the Florida team. Although Callender managed to save Randall Leal's shot, Víctor Ulloa missed his, resulting in an equal score in the shootout.
The quality of the penalty takers meant that neither of the two goalkeepers could stop another shot, leading to the 11th round of penalties. Callender, designated as the penalty taker, scored with a precise right-footed shot that went cross-goal, making it 10-9 and leaving Elliot Panicco with no chance.
Then, it was Nashville SC's goalkeeper's turn, who tried to maintain the parity but couldn't. The hero of Inter Miami CF saved the shot, making the save which brought a historic first title to the Florida team. A final score of 10-9 in favor of Inter Miami CF, with Callender not only playing a crucial role in this moment but also throughout the entire tournament.
Words from the hero after the triumph
After the match, the hero of the Florida team in the Leagues Cup final spoke about the victory. "It's a great honor to be part of our first victory in a final. It's surreal and very emotional. This team works day in and day out to perform like this on a night like tonight. It's wonderful to see the determination and faith in what we're capable of, and I feel blessed to be a part of it," the goalkeeper stated to the official broadcast.
He concluded by saying, "The atmosphere tonight was electrifying, so I had to embrace the moment and believe in the hard work I put into it, and in the end, it worked out in our favor."