Messi vs. Ronaldo rivalry could be rekindled in Saudi Arabia tournament

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Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo could resume their longstanding rivalry in a tournament being staged in Saudi Arabia in February. Organisers of the Riyadh Season Cup said Tuesday that Messi’s Inter Miami is expected to play in the three-team event. Miami called the announcement “inaccurate” and said it had been determining its preseason schedule. But the prospect of Messi vs. Ronaldo was already being pushed in Saudi Arabia. “We look forward to welcoming everyone from Inter Miami in February for the Riyadh Season Cup, which will bring together a number of the biggest international stars from across all three clubs competing,” said Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the Saudi General Entertainment Authority.

Messi has promoted tourism in Saudi Arabia and in May was suspended by former club Paris Saint-Germain for making an unauthorised trip to the country. He also played in this year’s Riyadh Season Cup when PSG was the guest team. Ronaldo’s Al Nassr and Neymar’s Al-Hilal will take part in February’s event, organisers said. Inter Miami has confirmed it will embark on an international tour but did not reveal details. “Since day one, Inter Miami CF has set out to be a global brand. To this end, we have been in conversations to determine our 2024 preseason schedule,” it said. “We look forward to showcasing our players on Inter Miami CF’s first international tour which will be announced in the coming weeks.” Saudi Arabia has made a major push to be a big player in world soccer by signing some of the game’s biggest players amid allegations of sportswashing. But it couldn’t lure Messi to the oil-rich kingdom when he left PSG at the end of last season, with the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner opting to move to MLS instead.

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. The Riyadh Season Cup is scheduled to be held in the first week of February at Kingdom Arena.

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Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson said Monday that nothing had been finalised 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.”