Martino plays down Messi injury as Inter Miami advance in Champions Cup

Argentine was substituted five minutes into second half of 3-1 win over Nashville

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Lionel Messi and Luis Suarez continued their prolific partnership in club football with both on target as Inter Miami reached the quarter-finals of the Concacaf Champions Cup with a 3-1 win over Nashville on Wednesday.

With the first leg ending in a 2-2 draw, Miami were quick into their stride, with Messi setting up Suarez for the eighth-minute opener and then the Argentine found the target himself in the 23rd minute.

Robert Taylor, on for Messi in the second half, added a third on 63 minutes with a fine header before Sam Sturridge scored a late consolation for Nashville as Mimai advanced 5-3 on aggregate.

There was some concern for Gerardo 'Tata' Martino as Messi was replaced on 50 minutes, though the Miami coach downplayed the severity of the injury to the Argentine.

"He has an overload in his right hamstring," Martino said of Messi's complaint. "So we didn't want to take any risks. We tried to see if he could hold on a bit longer but it was bothering him and we preferred to take him out of the game.

"I imagine that for Saturday's game [at DC United] he is not going to be available," said Martino.

Miami, playing in the competition for the first time, will face the winner of Thursday's second leg between Mexico's Monterrey and MLS's FC Cincinnati in the quarter-finals.

The Liga MX team are at home and lead 1-0 from the first leg.

The first leg in Tennessee had seen Nashville take a two-goal lead before goals from Messi and Suarez inspired a comeback for a 2-2 draw.

And it was the former Barcelona pair that proved to be the difference again as Miami took control from the outset.

Messi had an early opportunity when he was brought down on the edge of the box, providing him with a free kick from a central position but his shot struck the wall.

Minutes later, Messi created the opener, splitting the Nashville defence with a perfect pass to Suarez whose exquisite finish, with the outside of his right foot, matched the precision of the assist.

While the veteran quartet of Barcelona players in the Miami team, also including Spaniards Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets, grab the attention, the young midfield workhouse Diego Gomez has become increasingly influential.

It was the Paraguayan's aggressive running that created the second goal, in the 23rd minute, when Gomez drove aggressively into the box and then smartly slipped inside to Messi who buried the ball, first time, into the corner.

It was Messi's fifth goal in five games in all competitions this season. Suarez has scored four in six games.

Miami coach Martino brought Messi off for Taylor five minutes after the interval, with no visible sign of an injury for the Argentine.

The departure of the eight-time Ballon d'Or winner gave Nashville a lift. They began to attack with real intent and Callender had to pull off a fine save at point-blank range to deny Lukas MacNaughton.

But any hint of a Nashville comeback was snuffed out when Suarez turned provider with a delightful chip into the box towards Taylor, who angled home his header to make it 3-0

Nashville's Hany Mukhtar had an effort disallowed for offside before English striker Sam Surridge added a late consolation.

"We got the goals that we needed at the start," said Taylor.

"Then we knew in the second half they would try their all to score and they did put on more pressure. Luckily we got the third and Drake made some amazing saves. It is a great feeling going through and performing like this, every game is like do or die (in the Cup) so it's a great feeling," said the Finnish international.

The winners of the Champions Cup will take part in December's inaugural Intercontinental Cup and also the 32-team Club World Cup in 2025.

Updated: March 14, 2024, 6:27 AM