MONTERREY, Mexico (AP) — Lionel Messi and Inter Miami will try to overturn a 2-1 deficit from the first leg when they play Monterrey on Wednesday night for a spot in the CONCACAF Champions Cup semifinals.

Messi missed last week’s first leg of the home-and-home, total-goals series. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner returned from a hamstring injury that had sidelined him since a March 13 Champions Cup match against Nashville to play the second half of last Saturday’s Major League Soccer game at Colorado, scoring once in a 2-2 draw.

“He is fine. He felt good after playing 45 minutes last Saturday. We still have today’s practice, but apparently the injury is behind him,” Miami coach Gerardo Martino said Tuesday. “That’s the most important thing. Never mind tomorrow’s match. The season is just beginning for us, and we need healthy players.”

The match sold out in just a few hours and asking prices for resale tickets ranged from $450-$1,900.

“Leo’s presence transcends any situation, people love football, and we knew something like this could happen,” Martino said. “This is what happens when you have the best player in the world.”

Messi did not speak to media. He has held only two media availabilities with Inter Miami since signing with the team last July 15: on Aug. 17 in Florida and on Feb. 6 in Tokyo during a preseason tour.

Hundreds of Mexican fans began gathering early Tuesday morning outside Miami’s team hotel in San Pedro Garza, a high-end neighborhood in Monterrey.

“It’s crazy out here. There are a lot of Messi fans here,” said Juan Escalante, a 29-year-old factory employee who missed work to try to see his idol. “I have been here since early morning. Unfortunately the bus went through too fast, and I missed him.”

Miami took a lead last week on Tomás Avilés’ 19th-minute goal, but Monterrey went ahead when Maximiliano Meza scored in the 69th and Jorge Rodríguez in the 89th.

Because CONCACAF uses away goals as a tiebreaker, a 1-0 Miami win wouldn’t be sufficient.

“It might take more than just one goal,” Martino said.

Monterrey coach Fernando Ortiz said his team is aware of what Messi can do.

“We are Monterrey. We are at home, with our people. Let Messi worry about us,” Ortiz said. “It’s very fortunate to be able to face the best player in the world. We are going to enjoy it, but we want to win.”

Monterrey is a five-time CONCACAF champion, winning last in 2021.

“Monterrey is not going to change with the lead,” Ortiz said. “We are going for a positive outcome.”


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