Lionel Messi and Inter Miami might play two matches in Saudi Arabia in February, including one against Cristiano Ronaldo.
UPDATE: Inter Miami denies that the club agreed to this matchup. The team released a statement, saying, ““The release included statements attributed to team owner Jorge Mas. Mas has made no comments, publicly or privately, in relation to the preseason tour.“
Messi’s Inter Miami will take a preseason trip to Saudi Arabia during the first week of February to take on Saudi Pro League sides Al-Nassr and Al-Hilal as part of the Riyadh Season Cup. Al Nassr features Ronaldo, while Al-Hilal is led by Neymar, who’s currently out with a knee injury. The Saudis announced the slate of matches all over social media on Tuesday, but Inter Miami denied that they’ve agreed as of yet to participate in the event.
The soccer GOAT also appeared in Riyadh last February when he was a member of Paris Saint-Germain. PSG took on an all-star squad of Al Nassr and Al-Hilal players, winning 5-4 in Ronaldo’s first Saudi appearance after signing a two-year contract worth $436 million, a sports record for average annual value. It was all part of Messi’s record eighth Balon d’Or trophy awarded for European soccer’s top player. After winning the World Cup with Argentina last December, Messi signed with Miami on a free transfer during the summer, taking Major League Soccer by storm.
Messi and Inter Miami won the first ever Leagues Cup in August, but failed to make the MLS playoffs despite bringing along former Barcelona teammates Jordi Alba and Sergio Busquets to America. Miami will reportedly add Luis Suarez to the club next season. Their preparations will begin during this two-match Saudi stretch with a reprisal of Messi’s decade-long rivalry with Ronaldo, who has 13 goals and seven assists in 12 matches this season.
The Riyadh Season has and will include WWE, boxing, UFC, and tennis events, part of an overall strategy which critics would point to as a distraction from the Saudis’ human rights abuses. Notable celebrities and brands participating include Novak Djokovic, Carlos Alcaraz, Post Malone, Shakira, Mike Tyson, Disney, and Nintendo.
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