LIONEL MESSI wasted no time in stealing the limelight on Cristiano Ronaldo’s big day in Saudi Arabia.
Ronaldo had touched the ball just once, a throw-in, when his old nemesis opened the scoring inside three minutes.
CR7’s big Saudi debut looked to have been hijacked.
He fought back with two goals of his own, but ten-man PSG came out on top in a chaotic contest.
The fact his first outing was against Messi, fresh from winning the World Cup and still at the vanguard of one of Europe’s biggest clubs, would have made the reality of Ronaldo’s new life in the Middle East even more stark.
The Argentina captain arrived in Riyadh on the morning of the game and was gone again within hours of the full-time whistle – off to bigger and better things.
Ronaldo is in it for the long haul – though he has already raked in almost £10million since signing his £170million-a-year deal last month.
Messi may also be on the payroll here as a tourism ambassador, but in sporting terms the gap between the two on their 37th meeting has never been wider.
The last time these two shared a pitch, Ronaldo’s Juventus were 3-0 winners over Barcelona, with the No7 scoring twice.
It felt a lot longer than two years ago here and the point was made in only the third minute.
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Neymar clipped a glorious ball over the back line where Messi raced into the space and finished first time.
PSG looked primed to rain on the Ronaldo parade, but quickly shot themselves in the foot.
Keylor Navas cleaned out Ronaldo as his attempt to punch away a cross saw him connect with the head of his former Real Madrid teammate.
The star of the show was down for a while, needing treatment, but picked himself up, rubbed his puffed-up cheek and converted the penalty.
The trademark celebration was rolled out and met with a loud “SIU” from the stands.
Javier Bernat was then shown a harsh red card for PSG, sparking a chaotic spell either side of half time.
PSG goals from Marquinhos and Sergio Ramos either side of half time were both cancelled out, the first by Ronaldo and the second by Al Hilal’s Hyeon Soo Jang.
Amidst all that Neymar saw a pathetic penalty effort easily saved, before Messi won another with his shot handballed.
After Neymar’s embarrassment, Mbappe – again, suspiciously, not Messi – stepped up and confidently converted.
This was the cue for the stars to leave the stage. Ronaldo and Messi were both withdrawn without so much of a glance at one another but to a chorus of applause from the stands. Hugo Ekitike then added a fifth to move them clear, despite Talisca getting a fourth for the Saudi side with the final kick of the game.
The attention of those remaining was fixed on the big screens, huge cheers for the stars shown on the bench and the loudest of the night when Ronaldo blew a kiss down the camera.
It may not have been a full outing from Ronaldo and Messi, but their Saudi paymasters got exactly what they paid a not so small fortune for.
Questions will and should remain over the real intent behind the huge investments being made into sport.
Ahead of this one-off friendly, Amnesty UK’s Peter Frankental said: “This match is a reminder that Saudi Arabia’s sportswashing efforts are still operating at full throttle.”
The Saudi Arabian Football Federation dismiss any accusations of sportswashing and point to the undeniable passion for the sport in this country.
Tickets for this one-off meeting sold out in minutes and the crowd created a lively atmosphere throughout, though a number packed up and left after both Ronaldo and Messi were taken off.
If this was to be their last meeting, at least it lived up to the billing in terms of excitement, with the two greatest players to ever grace the European game putting on a show for adoring fans.
Both dominated Europe for more than a decade together, but only one has the chance to continue to do so.