Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi transported fans back in time to the heyday of their storied rivalry, as both forwards got on the scoresheet in an exhibition match on Thursday before Hugo Ekitike earned 10-man Paris Saint-Germain (PSG) a 5-4 win over the Riyadh Season Team.
While the match may not have much lasting significance for the teams involved, football fans around the world got plenty of bang for their buck as a story that has dominated the sport for over a decade appeared to come to an end in a memorable goalfest.
Ronaldo and Argentina’s Messi have dominated the sport over the last 15 years, winning the Ballon d’Or 12 times between them.
Their rivalry grew during the nine years in which they faced off against each other in Spain – when Messi was starring for Barcelona and Ronaldo for Real Madrid.
In an action-packed first half at the King Fahd International Stadium in Riyadh, goals from Messi and Marquinhos were cancelled out by a Ronaldo brace, while PSG’s Juan Bernat was sent off for a lunging tackle on Saudi international Salem Al-Dawsari.
The game resumed at a frenetic pace after the break, with goals coming thick and fast as Sergio Ramos turned in a Kylian Mbappe cross for PSG before South Korean Jang Hyun-soo replied with a near-post header from a corner to make it 3-3.
A handball by Ali Al-Bulaihi gave the visitors a penalty, which was expertly dispatched by Mbappe on the hour, before Hugo Ekitike extended the lead to 5-3 with a thumping finish following a lung-busting run from the halfway line.
Anderson Talisca scored late for the Saudis in added time, but Ekitike’s strike proved to be enough on the night.
Though he was unable to get his newest chapter in Saudi Arabia off to a winning start, 37-year-old Ronaldo will take heart from his performance as he prepares to make his first competitive appearance for Al Nassr when they host Al Ettifaq on Sunday.
The match marked the first time Ronaldo played any football in the kingdom since signing a contract with Al Nassr that runs until 2025 and is worth more than 200 million euros ($216m), according to sources close to the club.
The latest and possibly final chapter in Ronaldo’s illustrious career comes weeks after Portugal’s World Cup quarterfinal exit in Qatar, where Messi lifted the trophy for Argentina.