Dubai: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, two of the greatest footballers of all time, will face off on Thursday in the latest instalment of their perennial rivalry.
A Riyadh All-Star XI made up of players from Saudi Pro League teams Al Nassr and Al Hilal will tackle Paris Saint-Germain in the Riyadh Season Cup at the King Fahd Stadium and all eyes will be on the two men with 12 Ballon d’Or crowns between them.
Middle East debut
The Portuguese superstar is set to make his Middle East debut against the French Ligue 1 champions and will wear the captain’s armband as he steps out for the glamour tie.
There is no doubt the 37-year-old former Manchester United, Real Madrid and Juventus star will be basking in adulation from the first whistle until the last what with fans desperate to see him in action in his new surroundings.
Ronaldo became a free agent late last year after having his contract terminated by the Old Trafford club following an explosive interview with Piers Morgan. He agreed a move to Saudi Arabia earlier this month as he embarks on a new challenge in the twilight of his career.
His new club, Al Nassr, are currently the top of the Saudi Pro League with 30 points from 13 games this season while reigning champions Al Hilal are just one point behind in second spot.
But before Ronaldo can help his new team mates, he will first face PSG in the highly-anticipated friendly with the French champions currently in the midst of a bit of a wobble.
Despite starting with Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar they lost their last league match to a depleted Rennes side 1-0 on Sunday. They also lost on New Year’s Day to Lens whom they lead by only three points in Ligue 1. Spirits will not exactly be high for Christophe Galtier’s men when they arrive in Riyadh and the All Star XI will fancy their chances who have several standout names including Salem Al-Dawsari who scored a stunning World Cup goal for Saudi Arabia against Messi’s Argentina.
They also boast another ex-United forward Odion Ighalo who could play in a wide role to accommodate Ronaldo up front while Moussa Marega, Anderson Talisca and Andre Carillo will be keen to shine what with the whole world watching.
Galtier is expected to put out a strong side with the Messi-Mbappe-Neymar trident lining up from the first whistle against Ronaldo and co but Presnel Kimpembe will not be involved due to injury. Nuno Mendes and Marco Verratti may not be risked either.
Messi and Ronaldo have played 36 times against each other with the Argentinian holding a slight edge with 22 goals as opposed to Ronaldo’s 21 and this promises to be an entertaining and possibly high-scoring battle that fans all over the world will lap up.
Riyadh All-Star XI possible starting lineup:
Al-Owais; Abdulhamid, Gonzalez, Hyun-soo, Konan; Cuellar, Al-Faraj, Talisca; Carillo, Ighalo, Ronaldo
Paris Saint-Germain possible starting lineup:
Navas; Hakimi, Ramos, Bitshiabu, Bernat; Vitinha, Sanches, Soler; Messi; Mbappe, Neymar