Cristiano Ronaldo's first appearance in Saudi Arabia against a Paris Saint-Germain team containing Lionel Messi, Kylian Mbappe and Neymar led to over 2 million online requests for tickets, sources told ESPN.
Former Manchester United and Real Madrid forward Ronaldo signed a two-and-a-half-year contract with Riyadh-based Al Nassr FC worth $75 million a year on Dec. 30, but a two-match suspension imposed by the English Football Association in November for knocking a phone out of supporter's hand during a Premier League game at Everton last season has delayed the 37-year-old's debut for his new team.
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Ronaldo's ban will be completed when he sits out Al Nassr's Saudi Pro League fixture against Al Shabab on Saturday, making him eligible to make his debut for the club in the home game against Al-Ettifaq at Mrsool Park on Jan. 22.
But with the Portugal forward clear of suspension before a combined team from Al Nassr and Saudi champions Al Hilal face PSG on Jan. 19, sources have said that Ronaldo will play his first game on Saudi soil against the French champions.
The exhibition game against PSG will be staged at the 68,000-capacity King Fahd Stadium in Saudi capital Riyadh and sources have said that tickets were sold out "within minutes" after going on sale earlier this week.
At one stage, over 2 million fans were in an online queue for tickets to watch Ronaldo's first appearance in the country, but also his first encounter with Messi since Ronaldo scored twice in a 3-0 Champions League victory with Juventus over Barcelona at Camp Nou in December 2020.
Ronaldo and Messi have played against each other on 36 occasions for club and country, with Messi leading the way with 16 wins to Ronaldo's 11. Messi has scored 22 goals in those meetings, compared to 21 by Ronaldo.
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However, with next week's game designated as an exhibition game rather than competitive fixture, any goals scored by the two players won't count toward their overall professional numbers.
Meanwhile, a Saudi Arabian businessman is leading the bidding to watch the latest chapter in the Ronaldo and Messi rivalry with a 10 million riyals ($2.66M) offer for a ticket to a showpiece game.
The Saudi government's entertainment arm said on Twitter that Mushref Al-Ghamdi, general manager of real estate group AqarOne, was the leader so far in an auction ending on Jan. 17.
The buyer of the ticket has the right to attend the winner's ceremony after the match, enter dressing rooms, and meet the two men who for years have vied to be the world's greatest.
Information from Reuters was included in this report.