Messi, 36, has already played against one Saudi Pro League team as part of Miami's preseason preparations for the 2024 MLS campaign, losing 4-3 to Al Hilal on Monday. Next up it's Al Nassr on Feb. 1, just a few days before Ronaldo's 39th birthday.
The Miami-Al Nassr game was being dubbed in some quarters as "The Last Dance" between the two greatest players of their era -- and possibly ever -- but now we will have to hope for another meeting in the future when both players are fit.
Messi and Ronaldo actually played against each other earlier this year when Paris Saint-Germain travelled to Saudi Arabia for an exhibition game against a Saudi Pro League XI. Both of the star attractions managed to get on the scoresheet (Ronaldo actually scored twice) as the Saudi select side ran out 5-4 victors in Riyadh, though the friendly doesn't count toward any official stats.
They may play their football on opposite sides of the world these days, but their rivalry is still one for the ages, as history attests.
Editors' note: This article was first published on April 24, 2020, and has since been updated.
Messi and Ronaldo have tangled a total of 36 times in competitive matches for club and country. During the entire duration of Ronaldo's senior career, the only player he has 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 Godín 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 0-0 draw in the first leg of the Champions League semifinals. Ronaldo also missed a penalty at Camp Nou in the only meeting between the pair to have ever ended goalless, but United's 1-0 win at Old Trafford sent them through to the final, where they beat Chelsea.
At the time, the pair shared one Champions League title, 18 Champions League goals and precisely zero Ballon d'Ors. Those figures now stand at nine European crowns, 269 UCL goals and 13 Ballon d'Ors between them. In addition, Ronaldo captained Portugal to glory at the 2016 European Championship and the inaugural UEFA Nations League in 2019, while Messi led Argentina to triumphs at the 2021 Copa America and the 2022 World Cup.
While classed as an exhibition game, the 5-4 friendly between PSG and Al Nassr in January is the most recent meeting between Messi and Ronaldo. It marked the fifth different country in which the pair have played against each other, having already faced off in official matches in Spain, England, Italy and Switzerland.
Messi leads the head-to-head record with 16 wins in competitive matches to Ronaldo's 11, while there have been nine draws. 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.
Ronaldo has represented four clubs since first playing against Messi in 2008, with Messi now at his third following his midseason move to Miami. 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 Manchester United.
Ronaldo may be the Champions League's all-time top scorer with 141 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.
Messi extended his Champions League goal haul to 129, putting him second in the all-time list, before he left for the United States in the summer. Barring a sensational return to an elite-level club in Europe, it is unlikely he will add any more to that tally. Still, stranger things have happened.
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.
1. Champions League final (Manchester United 0-2 Barcelona, May 27, 2009)
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, domestic cup and European Cup treble.
2. 'La Manita' (Barcelona 5-0 Real Madrid, Nov. 29, 2010)
🔙 # OTD 2010— FC Barcelona (@FCBarcelona) November 29, 2020
🔥10 years since the exhibition 🆚 R. Madrid at the Camp Nou! 😍 pic.twitter.com/8MF77o0Eaw
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.
3. Ronaldo's revenge (Real Madrid 1-0 Barcelona, April 20, 2011)
🏆💫 👑 Nine years ago today we clinched our 18th Copa del Rey!— Real Madrid C.F. 🇬🇧🇺🇸 (@realmadriden) April 20, 2020
⏳ 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
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.
4. Cristiano calls for 'calma' (Barcelona 1-2 Real Madrid, April 21, 2012)
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.
5. Copa woe at Camp Nou (Barcelona 1-3 Real Madrid, February 26, 2013)
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.
6. The shirt celebration (Real Madrid 2-3 Barcelona, April 23, 2017)
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.