Ronaldo-Messi rivalry set for new chapter in Riyadh



by olawale.alabi

A new chapter in the celebrated rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will unfurl on Thursday when they meet in an exhibition match.

The match has come as the Portugal forward gears up for his first game in Saudi Arabia since joining Al Nassr.

After a glittering career in Europe that saw him win four UEFA Champions League titles with Real Madrid and two Scudettos at Juventus, Ronaldo signed for Al Nassr.

He described it as the “right moment” to share his experience in Asia.

The Saudi club is the latest stop in Ronaldo’s career that began in 2002 at Sporting CP.

Thereafter, the forward spent two spells at Manchester United, the last of which ended on a bitter note as he exited following his acrimonious split with the club.

Ronaldo and Messi have dominated football’s debate about the greatest of all time (GOAT) for the best part of 10 years.

They will face off on the pitch on Thursday for the first time since December 2020 when Juventus beat FC Barcelona 3-0.

Ronaldo will lead Riyadh ST XI, a team made up of players from Al Hilal and Al Nassr, against Messi’s Paris St-Germain (PSG) in the exhibition contest.

Nothing is at stake, but fans are still excited by the prospect of watching the two stars clash.

The highly anticipated showdown, which will take place at the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh, reportedly had more than two million online ticket requests.

The bidding for a VIP “Beyond Imagination” ticket to the match has already topped 10 million riyals (2.66 million dollars) in an auction that is set to end later on Tuesday.

The game has also captivated fans as it comes just over a month after Messi helped Argentina win the 2022 World Cup, the missing piece in his vast trophy collection.

Ronaldo also made headlines during the tournament, becoming the first player to score in five World Cups, but he ended up in tears after Portugal were knocked out in the quarter-finals by Morocco.

While Thursday’s friendly will be Ronaldo’s first in Saudi Arabia, the 37-year-old’s first competitive appearance will come in the Saudi Pro League on Sunday when Al Nassr host Al Ettifaq.

Last month, he signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Al Nassr, estimated by media to be worth more than 200 million euros (216.28 million dollars).

But he has had to wait to play because of a two-match ban by England’s Football Association (FA) for knocking a phone out of a fan’s hand in April.

The exhibition game will also feature other key PSG players such as Kylian Mbappe, Sergio Ramos and Neymar.

Saudi internationals Salem Al-Dawsari, who scored in the shock group-stage win over Argentina in Qatar, and Saud Abdulhamid will play too.

It was reported on Monday that PSG will earn just over 10 million euros for the game.(Reuters/NAN)