RIYADH, Saudi Arabia – In a star-studded exhibition matchup Monday, Major League Soccer’s Inter Miami fell just short against Saudi Arabia’s Al-Hilal, losing 4-3. The match kicked off Inter Miami’s Middle East tour, serving as valuable preseason preparation as they build towards the MLS regular season.
Taking place at the state-of-the-art King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, the contest drew worldwide attention as a preview of Inter Miami’s firepower, led by global superstar Lionel Messi. In his first full season with the club after signing as a free agent last year, Messi was keen to make his mark.
However, a hungry Al-Hilal side had other plans, jumping out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first 15 minutes. Aleksandar Mitrovic opened the scoring in the 10th minute, with Abdullah Al-Hamdan doubling it just three minutes later. Known for their attacking style, Al-Hilal seemed determined to test Inter Miami’s defense early.
Down but not out, Inter Miami showcased their own wealth of talent by pulling a goal back in the 31st minute through Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez, another global household name. Yet Al-Hilal restored their two goal advantage right before halftime, as Michael netted to make it 3-1 heading into the locker room.
After regrouping at the break, Inter Miami came out firing in the second half. Messi, eager to make his presence known, drew and converted a penalty in the 54th minute to cut the lead to 3-2. Energized by Messi’s moment of magic, fellow Designated Player Gonzalo Higuain dropped deep to initiate a smooth passing sequence, ultimately setting up an equalizing goal by midfielder Gregore in the 55th minute.
With the contest now level at 3-3, Inter Miami seemed determined to complete the comeback victory. Pushing numbers forward, they controlled possession and created several promising chances. However, the Al-Hilal defense held firm, denying the MLS visitors despite wave after wave of pressure.
As the game headed towards the final minutes, Al-Hilal began to gain a foothold again. On one counter-attack, a precision pass from Luciano Vietto found striker Malcom open just inside the box. With a cool side-footed finish in the 88th minute, Malcom netted the dramatic match-winner.
Despite the 4-3 defeat, Inter Miami and their global superstars showed moments of brilliant attacking play. For a preseason exhibition, manager Phil Neville will be encouraged by his team’s ability to battle back against top-flight Middle Eastern opposition.
With ambitions of bringing MLS glory to South Florida, Inter Miami’s journey continues Thursday with an exhibition against Cristiano Ronaldo and his new Saudi club Al-Nassr. The Portugal and Manchester United legend will provide another stern test for Neville’s squad as they prepare for a crucial 2024 MLS campaign.
While not the result they hoped for, Monday’s defeat will provide valuable lessons. With the added experience of facing elite talent like Ronaldo later this week, Inter Miami aim to return to the United States seasoned and ready to fulfill their lofty goals this season