Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have had one of the most followed rivalries in football history. AFP/Josep LAGO

Earlier this week, the football world was rocked by news that a final showdown between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will take place in Saudi Arabia in February 2024 during the Riyadh Season Cup. However, just hours later, Messi's current club Inter Miami CF denied their participation in the event

What is the hype all about?

One of the biggest sports rivalries ever witnessed is the one between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. It reached its peak while the two players were playing in La Liga for Spanish giants FC Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively.

Unfortunately, it tapered off in a somewhat anti-climactic manner after Ronaldo made a shock move to Juventus FC in 2018. Their paths drifted further apart after Messi left Barcelona to join Paris Saint-Germain FC in 2021.

Ronaldo has since played for Manchester United in England and is now with Al-Nassr at the Saudi Pro League. Messi meanwhile, joined Major League Soccer (MLS) side Inter Miami CF this summer. Needless to say, their paths have diverged even more prominently in recent months, but fans were delighted at the prospect of seeing the two living legends facing one another in a final showdown between their current clubs.

Details of the event being dubbed as football's version of "The Last Dance"

Inter Miami and Al-Nassr will reportedly face each other in the Riyadh Season Cup as claimed by Turki Al-Sheikh, president of the Saudi Arabian General Entertainment Authority.

In a statement shared to media outlets, he said: "Riyadh Season and Inter Miami CF agreed to hold the Riyadh Season Cup matches in Riyadh as part of Riyadh Season activities. In a tournament that brings together the two Saudi clubs, Al Hilal and Al-Nassr, and Inter Miami CF, the matches will be played in league format. The league schedule will be announced at a later date."

He added that the tournament will take place in early February 2024 at the Kingdom Arena in Riyadh. He also claimed that the prominent players of each team are expected to participate.

Inter Miami co-owner Jorge Mas was also quoted in several reports, wherein he is said to have "hailed Inter Miami CF's participation in the Riyadh Season".

Inter Miami denies plans to participate in the Saudi-based event

Just hours after the Riyadh Season Cup announcement was made, Inter Miami CF released a statement denying that the club and its star player, Lionel Messi, will participate in the event.

"Earlier today, an announcement was issued stating that Inter Miami CF is scheduled to play in the Riyadh Season Cup. This is inaccurate," the club said in an official statement, which has interestingly now disappeared from the website.

However, eagle eyed-fans have already captured its contents, which added: "The release included statements attributed to team owner Jorge Mas. Mas has made no comments, publicly or privately, in relation to the preseason tour."

The Florida-based club said that they are in conversations about their pre-season plans, which would include an international tour for the first time. However, they denied the claims made by Al-Sheikh.

Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson said that nothing had been finalised about the team's preseason plans, which means that the Riyadh Season Cup announcement may have been done prematurely.

Nevertheless, if it happens, Messi and Ronaldo won't be facing each other in the Riyadh Season Cup for the first time. They already did so last season while Messi was still with PSG, but there was a lot less hype over that event. He has made a much bigger impact in just a few months with Inter Miami than he ever did in two years with PSG, and it remains to be seen if this final showdown will in fact materialise and if the competition will live up to fans' expectations.