Editors’ note: This article was first published on April 24, 2020, and has since been updated.
Despite now playing their club football on different continents, old foes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will face each other once again on Thursday when Paris Saint-Germain travel to Saudi Arabia for an exhibition game.
The friendly, officially known as the Riyadh Season Cup, will take place in the Saudi capital and will pit PSG against a side made up of players from Ronaldo’s Al Nassr and reigning Saudi Pro League champions Al Hilal.
Al Nassr coach Rudi Garcia has confirmed that Ronaldo is set to make his first appearance in Riyadh against PSG after the Portugal captain was forced to miss his first two domestic games for his new club due to a suspension carried over from his time at Manchester United. Therefore, this match will be the first played by Ronaldo since making his move with a full league debut set to follow against Ettifaq on Jan. 22.
Messi and Ronaldo last shared a pitch in December 2020. Since then, Ronaldo has changed clubs twice and Messi has won the World Cup. No wonder, then, that sources have told ESPN that there were more than 2 million online requests for tickets for the match at the 68,000-capacity King Fahd International Stadium.
Should both superstars take to the pitch in Riyadh, it will be the first time they have come face-to-face in more than two years (772 days, to be precise), with both players having moved on since their last meeting.
Indeed, Al Nassr will be the fourth different club that Ronaldo has represented over the course of 36 meetings between the pair since their maiden clash in April 2008, while Messi is now on his second team, having left Barcelona to join PSG in the summer of 2021.
Messi and Ronaldo have tangled a total of 36 times for club and country. During the entire duration of Ronaldo’s senior career, the only player he’s faced as often is Andres Iniesta (36 times). On the other hand, Messi has faced three other opponents on more occasions during his career: Sergio Ramos, Diego Godin, and Karim Benzema.
The very first Messi-Ronaldo meeting came on April 23, 2008, when a 20-year-old Messi found himself fielded opposite a 23-year-old Ronaldo as Barcelona and Manchester United played out a goalless draw in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals. The most recent occasion was when Ronaldo scored twice from the penalty spot in a 3-0 victory for Juventus over Barcelona in the Champions League group stage.
Messi leads the head-to-head record with 16 wins in competitive matches to Ronaldo’s 11, while there have been nine draws in matches involving the pair. Messi also has one more goal to his name in their encounters, having scored 22 to Ronaldo’s 21, but it is on the assist count that he really comes into his own with 11 goals created compared to just one from his rival.
The duo have played against each other five times in the Champions League knockout phase: both legs of the 2007-08 (Barca vs. Manchester United) and 2010-11 (Barca vs. Real Madrid) semifinals, as well as the 2008-09 final in Rome in which Messi scored for Barca in a 2-0 win over Ronaldo’s Manchester United.
Ronaldo may be the Champions League’s all-time top scorer with 140 goals overall, but his brace of penalties against Barca in the 2020-21 group stage was the first (and so far only) time he’d ever scored in the competition while sharing the pitch with Messi, who has scored three times in European clashes against teams featuring Ronaldo.
Crucially, Messi is still playing in the Champions League, although his haul of 129 goals in the competition means he will almost certainly have to be in Europe’s top competition again next term if he wants to overtake Ronaldo at the top of the scoring charts.
Most memorable clashes
There have been some truly memorable encounters among the 36 occasions on which Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been pitted against each other. Here are six of the best.
Barcelona secured their third European Cup #OTD in 2009! 🏆
— UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) May 27, 2021
The 2009 final in Rome was hyped as a gladiatorial clash between the two best players in the world, and this time Messi came out on top. Barca successfully kept United at arm’s length in Rome to win 2-0 — with Messi scoring a rare header for his team’s second goal — and secure their first ever league, cup and European Cup Treble.
🔙 # OTD 2010
🔥10 years since the exhibition 🆚 R. Madrid at the Camp Nou! 😍 pic.twitter.com/8MF77o0Eaw
— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 29, 2020
The game that was seen as something of a proving ground for both Messi and Ronaldo (who were both Ballon d’Or winners by this point) veered off script as Camp Nou witnessed a historic humiliation of Real and their coach, Jose Mourinho. Messi didn’t score, but he set up two goals as he played a pivotal role in Barca dishing out a mauling of their foes, who had started the game top of LaLiga and unbeaten in seven matches. The hefty scoreline was immortalised by Gerard Pique‘s five-fingered “Manita” (“Little Hand”) salute to the watching world.
🏆💫 👑 Nine years ago today we clinched our 18th Copa del Rey!
⏳ On April 20, 2011 we ran out 0-1 winners against @FCBarcelona in a dramatic extra-time victory at Mestalla!#RMHistory | #RMFansEnCasa pic.twitter.com/ROTmQPygFZ
— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) April 20, 2020
Ronaldo finally triumphed over Barca as a Real player at the fifth time of asking. The Madrid forward was the only scorer as his trademark towering 103rd-minute header saw Los Blancos snatch the Copa del Rey from under Barca’s noses. However, that final at the Mestalla came in the middle of an intense run of four Clasicos in three weeks, which culminated in Barca reaching the Champions League final at the expense of their bitter rivals.
— LaLiga (@LaLiga) December 1, 2016
Ronaldo again prevailed when the old adversaries met at Camp Nou toward the tail end of the 2011-12 league campaign. Barca surrendered their hopes of defending their league title as a winner from Ronaldo put Los Blancos seven points clear at the top of the table with four matches left to play. Ronaldo’s goal — which he marked in unusually understated fashion by gesturing for “calm” as his teammates celebrated — also saw Real break the Spanish league scoring record with goal No. 109 of the season, and they romped to the title soon thereafter.
Ronaldo again inflicted Copa del Rey heartbreak on Catalonia when the Real man turned in a star performance to send Barcelona packing. After the first leg had ended 1-1 at the Bernabeu, the Portugal forward scored twice — via a penalty that he won himself after being fouled by Pique, and then a towering header — and almost single-handedly wrapped up a 3-1 win at Camp Nou in the return match to seal Real’s place in the final.
— LaLiga English (@LaLigaEN) April 23, 2020
Messi once again seized the headlines after a 92nd-minute winner from the Argentine talisman nicked a very late victory at the Bernabeu and kept Barca’s title aspirations alive. Having already scored in the first half, Messi kept his cool to slot home an injury-time winner amid a hostile atmosphere and then celebrate by pointedly reminding the Real supporters of his name.
If there is one statistic or fact to sum up the greatness of the rivalry between Messi and Ronaldo it is this: in the entire nine-year period that they were together in Spain, there was never a goalless Clasico.
Box office, guaranteed.