Ronaldo faced Messi for the 36th, and maybe the last time ever, in an epic friendly match in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia’s capital. Following the decades-long rivalry, the two superstars went head-to-head on Saudi soil on 19th January, almost exactly a month after the World Cup in Qatar 2022 culminated with Messi holding up the winning trophy for Argentina. With other mega stars Mbappe and Neymar playing alongside, it was showtime!
The friendly nature of the match between PSG and Saudi Arabia’s All-Stars team – comprised of their star players from Al Nassr and Al Hilal, meant the two megastars were facing off for the first time since December 2020 when they were playing for Juventus and Barcelona. Cristiano Ronaldo, recently bought by Al Nassr, played for the Saudi All-Stars team, and Messi played for PSG.
Arguably four of the biggest names in soccer worldwide, Ronaldo, Messi, Mbappe and Neymar, gave the King Fahd stadium quite the show and the word GOAT was plastered across the stadium’s advertising boards, short for “Greatest Of All Time”. The excitement was such that ticket prices soared, with some fetching $2.6m.
The first half of the match was action-packed with Messi scoring in under three minutes into the game. Fittingly, Ronaldo equalized the score to 1-1 in a penalty at the 33rd minute. At minute 42 and with only 10 players on their side after Bernat was given a red card, PSG’s centre back Marquinhos scored effortlessly thanks to a corner kick.
Just before half time, Neymar missed a penalty and Ronaldo’s header with Abdul Hamid’s cross hits the post, but Ronaldo catches it on the rebound and kicks the ball to the back of the net, getting the Saudis to tie 2-2.
The second half continued as the game began with centre back for PSG, Ramos, scoring early on, at minute 52, assisted by Mbappe. Minutes after PSG take the lead, Hyun-Soo Jang surprises everyone and ties PSG – All-Star Saudis 3-3, followed swiftly by a penalty taken by Mbappe, who goes for power and scores just before the hour mark, leaving us to breathe at 4-3 for PSG.
Seven goals and twenty minutes still to go… Tantalising action ensued with many attempts and saves from both star-studded teams. Finally, at minute 77, Ekitike crosses the ball into the top left corner and scores for PSG, making the three substituted superstars, Messi, Mbappe, and Neymar proud from the sidelines and taking PSG into the lead by 5-3.
5-3 it remained until the 93rd minute when Saudi’s Talisca delivered a super strike to the bottom left-hand corner of PSG’s net, scoring the 9th goal of the match and showing the Saudi team’s determination to the end, despite PSG’s victory finally of 5-4.
The rest over the Christmas break and lack of high stakes pressure seemed to translate to epic football at the King Fahd stadium, good-humoured players, and even more goals. This week however, FIFA announced that their World Cup in Qatar at the end of last year recorded 172 goals, the highest number of goals in the tournament’s history, making the common ground between the players and Arabian soil.
Either way, it was a thrilling match and another win for Messi.