Fresh from being crowned the 2023 Ballon d'Or winner, adding an eighth award to his collection, Lionel Messi returned to action in his final Inter Miami game of the year against New York City FC.
Played at 01:00 (GMT), Messi led Inter Miami out in a friendly against the Major League Soccer side from the Big Apple, but couldn't prevent his team from stumbling to a 2-1 defeat at the DRV PNK Stadium.
Messi's final game of 2023 for Inter Miami was a match to forget for the 36-year-old.
How did Lionel Messi fare against New York City?
Despite being heavily involved in the action for Inter Miami, the Argentine was unable to stamp his authority on proceedings.
With the match goalless, Messi had Inter Miami's first opportunity to take the lead after just 11 minutes. The diminutive forward swivelled on the ball wonderfully deep in New York City territory, curling an effort towards the bottom corner that was palmed wide by Matt Freese.
It would have been a moment of magic from Messi, but there was an uncharacteristically sloppy incident involving the former Barcelona star 17 minutes later. With the ball cut back to him ten yards from goal, the World Cup winner fluffed his effort on his favoured left foot, falling on the ball rather comically. For Messi, it was a horrendous miscue.
Inter Miami were punished for their profligacy shortly before half-time as Talles Magno hit a powerful effort beyond Drake Callender. New York City doubled their lead two minutes after the break, with Julian Fernandez planting a delicious strike into the top corner via an exquisite first-time shot - the kind of strike you'd expect to see from Messi.
The Inter Miami captain then had a chance at redemption, finding space on the edge of the box before curling an effort towards the far corner with his left foot. However, his shooting boots had clearly been misplaced, the ball heading wide of the target for a goal kick.
While the brilliantly named Robbie Robinson fired home a late goal after a delightful Sergio Busquets through ball, Messi was unable to find an equaliser for his side.
All in all, it was a pretty tame night for the Argentine and not the send-off to 2023 that he would have liked.
Will Lionel Messi play again in 2023?
Fans itching for another fix of Messi before the new year only have to wait until November's international break. Argentina's first World Cup-winning captain since Diego Maradona will once again wrap the armband around a set of blue and white stripes for his nation's final World Cup qualifiers of 2023.
Argentina are up against their two biggest South American rivals later this month; Uruguay and Brazil. Former Argentina manager Marcelo Bielsa has led Uruguay to second place in the early qualification table, securing a seismic 2-0 victory over Brazil last month inspired by Liverpool's Darwin Nunez. Bielsa's fast and furious outfit travel to Boca Juniors' La Bombonera on 17 November.
Prior to the loss in Uruguay, Brazil's 15-game winning streak in home qualifiers was ended by a 1-1 draw with Venezuela. Fans hurled popcorn at Neymar and his colleagues in disgust.
Messi's most recent memory of the Maracana - the venue for the upcoming encounter on 22 November - is a joyous one. Only 5,000 popcorn-less fans were in attendance to see Argentina defeat Brazil in Rio de Janeiro to win the 2021 Copa America final, Messi's first major international trophy. Another success on enemy soil would certainly be a more appropriate conclusion to the year for Messi.