Anticipation has been high since Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s final meeting of incomparable careers was announced at the end of last year.
As usual, Saudi Arabia’s advertising machine for the Riyadh season did not miss a trick.
Turki Alalshikh, chairman of the Royal General Entertainment Authority, posted on Instagram to announce the “Last Dance” between once-sworn rivals Barcelona and Real Madrid when Ronaldo’s Al Nassr host Messi’s Inter Miami in the Riyadh Season Cup on February 1.
However, Cristiano doesn’t even say a word.
Why Isn’t Ronaldo playing tomorrow against Messi?
Al Nassr head coach Luis Castro told reporters on Wednesday that his starting striker would be “ready soon” after a muscle injury forced the cancellation of two friendlies in China last week. But not soon enough.
“He is in the final stages of his recovery to join the group,” Castro said. “We hope to start working with the team in the next few days.” He will be missed in the game.”
There is no indication that the Al Nassr vs. Inter Miami was canceled in Ronaldo’s absence. Castro confirmed that Ronaldo will not play as part of his pre-match media duties.
Despite this undoubtedly being a huge blow to the organisers, there is a clear and obvious difference between this game and Al Nassr’s scheduled matches in China.
Ronaldo is a shining symbol of Saudi Arabia’s expansion into big-money football, but unlike the scheduled matches with Shanghai Shenhua and Zhejiang, he is not the only show in town.
Messi is here for the Riyadh season and that in itself is a coup for GEA and the Saudi government as a whole. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner is an ambassador for Saudi tourism and recently featured in a video ad promoting the country as a sought-after destination.
In addition, the Riyadh Season Cup is a triangular event that also features Al Nassr’s Saudi Pro League counterparts Al Hilal.
Al Hilal beat Messi and Inter Miami 4-3 on January 29, with the two domestic rivals scheduled to meet on February 8, a date that now becomes Ronaldo’s next return target.