Inter Miami left supporters confused by adding Lionel Messi to their substitutes bench shortly before kick-off in Thursday’s Riyadh Season Cup match against Al-Nassr. The eight-time Ballon d’Or winner had joined long-time rival Cristiano Ronaldo in being ruled out of the clash earlier in the day, leaving many fans disappointed.
Inter and Al-Nassr’s meeting in the Middle East had been dubbed ‘The Last Dance’, considering it was the potential final meeting on the pitch between Messi and Ronaldo.
However, earlier in the week, Al-Nassr manager Luis Castro confirmed that the latter would not be taking part in the showcase encounter.
He said: “We will not see [Messi vs Ronaldo]. Ronaldo is in the final part of his recovery to join the group. We hope that in the next few days you can start working with the team. He will be absent from the game.”
And Messi added to the woes of fans in attendance and worldwide by also dropping out as a precaution. He was subsequently absent from Inter’s official squad graphic on X (formerly Twitter).
After a lengthy period, though, Inter deleted their initial post and re-added it to the social media platform, this time featuring Messi among their substitutes.
It has prompted mass optimism that the Argentine World Cup winner will be taking to the pitch while Ronaldo, supporting his team-mates at the Kingdom Arena, watches on.
Messi, 36, and Ronaldo, 39, have faced off 35 times throughout their illustrious careers. The former boasts 16 wins from those meetings, while the latter has 10 to his name.
They first met on the pitch as Messi was a wonderkid at Barcelona and Ronaldo was making a name for himself at Manchester United.
But most of their memorable clashes took place in the form of the El Clasico after Ronaldo left Old Trafford for Real Madrid in 2009.
Messi has eight Ballons d’Or compared to the Portuguese icon, who has picked up five, and his World Cup win with Argentina in 2022 strengthened his position in the popular GOAT debate.
Ronaldo publicly baulked at Messi winning a record-extending Ballon d’Or over Erling Haaland last year. However, in September, he insisted that the duo’s rivalry was over.
“Hatred? I don’t see things like that. The rivalry is over. It was good, the spectators liked it. Those who like Cristiano Ronaldo don’t have to hate Messi and vice versa.
“We’ve done well. We have changed the history of football. We are respected all over the world, that’s the most important thing.
“He’s followed his path, and I have followed mine, regardless of playing outside of Europe. From what I’ve seen, he’s been doing well, and so have I. The legacy lives on, but I don’t see the rivalry like that.
“We shared the stage many times. It was 15 years. I’m not saying we’re friends; I’ve never had dinner with him, but we’re professional colleagues, and we respect each other.”