Cristiano Ronaldo could play first game in Saudi Arabia against Lionel Messi and PSG

Portuguese superstar poised for possible friendly match with old rival

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Cristiano Ronaldo's first game since moving to Saudi Arabia could see him locking horns with old rival Lionel Messi in a friendly match against Paris Saint-Germain.

The Portugal international signed for Saudi outfit Al Nassr in December after his controversial exit from Manchester United following an explosive interview on British television in which he was heavily critical of the Premier League club.

Ronaldo has yet to play for his new club as he must serve a two-match domestic suspension imposed by the English Football Association for knocking a phone out of a fan's hand after Manchester United's defeat at Everton in April.

The 37-year-old would however be free to play for an all-star XI made up of players from Al Nassr and rival club Al Hilal in a newly-arranged friendly against Messi’s PSG in Riyadh on January 19.

The French club confirmed the fixture on Monday as they announced a short tour to the Middle East.

Messi returned to training with PSG last week after being given a two weeks off following Argentina's World Cup triumph in Qatar in December.

Ronaldo and Messi have dominated the sport over the past 15 years, winning the Ballon d'Or 12 times between them.

Their rivalry grew during nine years in which they came up against each other in Spain, when Messi was starring for Barcelona and Ronaldo at Real Madrid.

Ronaldo, who will turn 38 in February, agreed a contract with Al Nassr that runs until 2025 and is reportedly worth more than $214 million a year.

His arrival at Al Nassr, who are coached by Frenchman Rudi Garcia, comes as Saudi Arabia seeks to improve the profile of football in the country ahead of a possible joint bid to host the 2030 World Cup along with Greece and Egypt.

Ronaldo was out for Friday’s league game against Al Ta’ee and will miss the match against Al Shabab on Saturday. He is set to make his debut against Ettifaq on January 22 – unless he plays against Messi’s PSG.

“It [his debut] won't be with the Al Nassr jersey. It will be a mix between Al Hilal and Al Nassr,” confirmed Garcia in L'Equipe.

“As the coach of Al Nassr, I cannot be happy with this match. For development, to see PSG, to see the great Parisian players, indeed it is a good thing. But we have a championship game three days later.

“In terms of scheduling, it could have been better thought out. But it's not a big deal … We are in the lead, we are happy. It is a difficult championship to win, but we intend to do it.”

Garcia said Ronaldo's arrival in Saudi Arabia was similar to Pele's move to New York Cosmos, shining the spotlight on the little-known Saudi club who have amassed more than 10 million new Instagram followers since his signing last month.

The former Lille and Lyon coach said he hopes Ronaldo rediscovers the love of playing football after a tumultuous two-month period during which his United contract was terminated and Portugal lost in the World Cup quarter-finals.

“In recent months, between Manchester United, the national team and also at a private level, he has not had easy moments,” Garcia added. “If he finds the pleasure of playing again, it will be a good goal to achieve.”

Updated: January 09, 2023, 1:36 PM
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