Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo went head-to-head in Paris Saint-Germain’s 5-4 win over the Yard All-Stars on Thursday.
The exhibition match took place in the Saudi Arabian capital and saw the two superstars repeat their legendary rivalry for what could be one last time.
Despite being a friendly, the match was played at a furious pace as spectators packed the King Fahd Stadium to watch a goal-scoring feat between the French champions and a team comprising the best players in the Saudi domestic league.
After Ronaldo collided with Paris Saint-Germain goalkeeper Kailor Navas, Messi opened the scoring with a superb strike inside three minutes before Ronaldo equalized from the penalty spot.
Juan Bernat was sent off by the French giants after beating Salem Al Dawsari as the last man before defender Marquinhos turned through from Kylian A brilliant cross from Kylian Mbappé re-established PSG’s lead.
The breathtaking action continued as Neymar saw his penalty saved before Ronaldo was on top speed to make it 2-2 just before the break when his initial header hit the post reacted afterwards.
The Portugal international has yet to make his debut following his post-World Cup move to Nasser, but he delighted the crowds with a signature celebration on Thursday.
The 37-year-old will make his debut on Sunday as Al Nassr hosts Ettifaq at Mrsool Park.
The second half did not let up, with Sergio Ramos giving PSG the lead again after more fine performances from Mbappe before Jang Hyun-soo’s header equalized again.
Mbappe got himself on the scoresheet after converting another penalty before Ronaldo and Messi were substituted after the hour.
Even without the two big names on the pitch, the game continued at a frantic pace, with a young Hugo Ekitik calmly counterattacking to send PSG out of sight.
Still, Anderson Talisca still had time to convert a shot from distance into a goal, which was ultimately nothing more than a consolation.
The exhibition game exceeded the organizers’ imagination, and all the big names participated in an exciting competition.
Abu Aziz Affleck, president of the Saudi Pro League, said: “The players in our league are delighted to have the opportunity to play against some of the best players in the world such as Mbappe, Neymar, Ashraf Hakimi and of course And Messi,” in a statement.
“Supported by the extremely enthusiastic crowd at the King Fahd International Stadium, the players of the Saudi Pro League really put in a proud show that showcased the strength of Saudi Arabian football.”
However, the match was criticized by Amnesty International, which said it was another example of sports money laundering – the phenomenon in which corrupt or authoritarian regimes invest in sports and sporting events to whitewash their international reputation – from Saudi Arabia and Qatar, which financed Paris Saint-Germain through Qatar Sports Investments.
“Cristiano Ronaldo’s big-money move to Al Nassr and Messi’s appointment as a tourism ambassador by the Saudi authorities are all part of an aggressive sports purge in Riyadh that seeks to use the celebrity appeal of elite sport to divert attention from the country’s appalling human rights practices. Focus on the record,” Amnesty UK director of economic affairs Peter Frankenthal said in a statement.
He added: “Saudi Arabia’s extensive use of sport as an exercise in soft power is well known, but with Qatar-owned PSG showing up in Riyadh, we actually have two sports-washing superpowers – Saudi Arabia and Qatar – flexing their muscles. .
“Both Saudi Arabia and Qatar have poured money into sports businesses to rebrand themselves and divert international attention away from their human rights records — efforts that have been only partially successful.
“Footballers like Ronaldo and Messi have enormous visibility and we want to see them resist famous faces being used as a purge of the sport, including speaking out about human rights in Saudi Arabia and Qatar.”