Messi vs. Ronaldo again in Saudi Arabia as Inter Miami set for February tournament

The Riyadh Season Cup will be completed by Neymar’s Al-Hilal, but the Brazil international is unlikely to feature after tearing his ACL last month

Lionel Messi during the friendly match between New York City FC and Inter Miami
Lionel Messi (R) in action during the friendly match between New York City FC and Inter Miami at the DRV PNK stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 10 November 2023.CRISTOBAL HERRERA-ULASHKEVICH (EFE)

It seems like there’s no keeping Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo apart. The longtime rivals could go head-to-head next year, despite playing their soccer on different continents these days.

Messi’s Inter Miami will travel to Saudi Arabia in February to take part in the Riyadh Season Cup, which also includes Ronaldo’s Al Nassr. The three-team tournament will be completed by Neymar’s Al-Hilal, but the Brazil international is unlikely to feature after tearing his ACL last month.

“The excitement and global interest that we expect this tournament to generate expands upon one of our main aspirations for Riyadh Season — to create international events that visitors to Riyadh and fans around the world can all enjoy,” said Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority.

Saudi Arabia has made a major push to be a big player in world soccer by signing some of the game’s biggest players. But it couldn’t lure Messi to the oil-rich kingdom when he left Paris Saint-Germain at the end of last season, with the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner opting to move to MLS instead.

Messi took part in last season’s Riyadh Season Cup with PSG and also came up against Ronaldo after the Portugal great’s surprise move to Al Nassr. In May, Messi was fined and suspended by the French club for taking an unauthorized trip to Saudi Arabia.

Messi, who led Argentina to triumph at last year’s World Cup, has already won his first trophy with the David Beckham co-owned Miami — the Leagues Cup in August.

Messi and Ronaldo are widely considered to be two of the greatest players of all-time and competed against each other for soccer’s biggest prizes during their prime years at Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively.

Both have left European soccer behind but have shown little sign of giving up their ambition to add to their legacies.

Ronaldo has led Portugal to next year’s European Championship and Messi will be aiming to retain the Copa America for Argentina at next year’s tournament.

Sadio Mane has also joined Al Nassr as part of Saudi Arabia’s drive to lure more star names amid allegations of sportswashing.

While Neymar is recovering from surgery, Al-Hilal should still have Alexsandr Mitrovic and Sergej Milinkovic-Savic in its lineup.

The Riyadh Season Cup is scheduled to be held in the first week of February at Kingdom Arena. The schedule has not been announced, but the three teams will play in a round-robin tournament.

Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson said Monday that nothing had been finalized or was ready to be announced about the team’s preseason plans. It will resume training in the second week of January, with the expectation that the MLS season will begin in late February. Henderson said he thought the team would need between four and six preseason matches, split between the U.S. and overseas.

The club had plans to play two matches in China earlier this month, but that trip — which could have led to more than 100,000 tickets being sold — fell through for logistical reasons. Inter Miami didn’t make any international tours in its first three seasons; getting Messi in Year 4 changed everything.

“I really felt like, overnight, we became a global club,” Henderson said Monday. “Eyes all over the world are watching what we’re doing. And what comes with that are these tours and preseason opportunities that we have as a club, so we’re working closely with the front office as they negotiate some of those preseason tours.”

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