The eyes of the world will be on the King Fahd Stadium in Riyadh tonight as two of football’s all-time greatest players face off in what could be their final meeting on the same pitch.
Cristiano Ronaldo, the captain of the Riyadh Season XI, and Lionel Messi, playing for Paris Saint-Germain, will lead their respective teams in an exhibition game to celebrate the Riyadh Season cultural programme.
The game has been created to raise awareness and funds for charity, with Saudi businessman Mushraf al Ghamdi offering a ticket to the game that was sold for a staggering $2.6 million. Both teams have named strong line-ups for the game, with Neymar, Kylian Mbappe, Odion Ighalo and Moussa Marega all set to feature for PSG and Riyadh Season XI respectively.
Marcelo Gallardo, the former River Plate coach, will have the honour of selecting and coaching the Riyadh side, which also includes former Villarreal and Marseille defender Álvaro González, Brazilian winger Matheus Pereira and Saudi Arabian midfielder Salem Al-Dawsari. The match should be filled with incident and excitement, with Messi and Ronaldo having faced each other
Riyadh Season XI 4-5 PSG
It all started in the third minute when Leo Messi bagged the first of nine goals in a massively entertaining affair in Riyadh that at times was anything but friendly.
The game had everything, a missed penalty, a sending-off, a VAR intervention, nine goals, and of course, two of the finest players of recent times Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi shared a pitch for possibly the last time.
Both men were on target tonight with Messi opening the scoring before CR7 slotted home from the spot after receiving a right hook from PSG keeper Keylor Navas.
The first half was played at a high tempo to the delight of the 68,000 fans at the King Fahd Stadium as Spaniard Bernat saw red for a professional foul in the 39th minute.
The dismissal seemed to spur PSG on and the French side doubled their lead just before the interval as Marquinhos steered home following a fine pass from Mbappé.
As the clock ticked towards the 45′ mark, there was still time for more drama as Neymar missed a spot kick before Cristiano bagged his second (and tie on 23 a piece on head-to-head games with Messi) as he headed against the post and was quickest to react driving home left-footed to tie the game as the whistle sounded.
The second half began in the same frantic fashion as Sergio Ramos put PSG in front before Han headed Riyadh level. Just before both coaches made widespread changes, Mbappe had extended PSG’s lead from the spot before Ekitike extended the lead for the visitors with the big names earning well-earned breaks on the bench.
The best goal of the night came in the last minute as Brazilian Talisca drove home from the edge of the box to bring the curtain down on a hugely entertaining 90 minutes of action.
The ‘Last Dance’ for Messi and Ronaldo on the same pitch together? Very possibly, but what a privilege it has to enjoy the skill and talents of two of the finest players the game has produced.