Old foes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are set to do battle for what could be one final time in a friendly game in Saudi Arabia. The legendary forwards will be the big draw as Inter Miami take on Al Nassr in the Riyadh Season Cup in 2024 in a grudge match dubbed ‘The Last Dance’.
With both superstars having won more Ballon d’Ors than any other players in history, they will go down in the analls of the sport as having defined an era. However, the curtain could be brought down on one of the most storied rivalries in soccer history as the two arch enemies face off in February next year.
Having lit up European football over the last two decades, both players departed the continent for the first time in their respective careers earlier this year. For the first time, they will have the opportunity to land one final blow in their long-running rivalry for their new clubs.
In the case of Ronaldo, he headed to Saudi Arabia in January following a second spell with Manchester United, earning $75million a year until 2025. Messi, meanwhile, sensationally snubbed the advances of the Gulf State in the summer to move to MLS, where he earns $50-60million on an initial two-year deal.
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Although the rivals are now separated by different continents, that has not stopped the pair from trading some veiled jibes since their respective moves. Ronaldo, especially, has been critical of MLS in what was taken by some as a dig at his old rival’s expense earlier this year.
Speaking after the Saudi Pro League attracted a host of superstars including Karim Benzema and Sadio Mane following his arrival, he left was in no doubt that the league is superior to the US’ flagship equivalent. He asserted: “The Saudi league is better than MLS. Now all the players are coming here. In one year, more top players will come to Saudi Arabia.”
That said, Messi seemed unmoved by Ronaldo’s comments as he insisted he was happy with his choice to head stateside in the summer. He insisted: “People in this city and this club have made it easy for us. The fans, the people that I meet every day on the streets in the city where we are now… it’s a spectacular city, and that’s why I can live with happiness.”
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Ronaldo also gave his verdict on Messi’s record eighth Ballon d’Or win last month with a cryptic message posted on his Instagram page. The Portuguese icon posted four laughter emojis in response to a video by Spanish journalist Tomás Roncero, who insisted that his great rival ‘should only have should have had five’ Ballon d’Ors.
The pair last played each other at club level in a couple of exhibition matches earlier in the year, with a 5-4 thriller in January earning PSG the win. In Ronaldo’s first ever game for his new club, he scored twice, while his rival got on the scoresheet once himself.
In the next clash between the two clubs in July, the game would prove a more muted affair, however. In that instance, neither team was able to break the deadlock and it ended as a 0-0 stalemate.
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