‘Happy to be back’, Ronaldo says after exhibition match

‘Happy to be back’, Ronaldo says after exhibition match

Al Nassr star Cristiano Ronaldo has expressed joy after his debut in a Saudi all-star exhibition match against France club, Paris Saint-Germain on Thursday.

The five-time Ballon d’Or winner, who took to his social media to express his excitement playing competitively again, said he was happy to be back on the pitch and more so, to have been on the scoresheet in the 5-4 thriller match. He also won the Man of the Match award for the game.

Ronaldo who posted pictures from the match, including one hugging long-time rival Lionel Messi, wrote, “So happy to be back on the pitch, and on the scoresheet!! And nice to see some old friends!”

The PUNCH reported on Thursday night that Ronaldo, Messi and Kylian Mbappe were all on the scoresheet in the exhibition match at Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, with PSG winning by just one goal more than the Saudi side.

Ronaldo scored a brace for his Sauid-led team, after he recovered from a punch in the face.

Ronaldo, 37, was decked by PSG keeper Keylor Navas’s flailing fist, but he drilled the resulting penalty and then added another in a 5-4 exhibition defeat, his first appearance since moving to Saudi Arabia in a deal said to total more than 400 million euros.

For Qatar-owned PSG, Messi and Kylian Mbappe both scored and Neymar missed a penalty before they withdrew on the hour-mark alongside Ronaldo, who was representing a composite Saudi side, to leave the world’s four best-paid players watching from the bench in Riyadh.

Hundreds of millions of euros worth of footballers were on view for the exhibition game in the Saudi capital, which comes just weeks after neighbouring Qatar spent lavishly on the first World Cup on Arab soil, won by Messi’s Argentina.

Among the packed crowd at the 69,000-seat King Fahd Stadium was a Saudi real estate mogul who paid $2.6 million at auction for a ticket giving him dressing-room access to the players.

The Portugal star, Ronaldo, joined the Saudi Arabian club on a two-year contract in a deal worth €200m per year with commercial benefits included.

The Portugal captain was a free agent after leaving Manchester United following a controversial interview in which he heavily criticised the club.

Al Nassr, nine-time Saudi Pro League champions, described the signing of former Real Madrid star as “history in the making”.

The PUNCH reported earlier in January that Ronaldo’s debut was stalled as he was made to face a two-match ban by English Football Association even after leaving Europe.

The ban followed FA’s investigation after Ronaldo knocked a phone out of a fan’s hand following Manchester United’s defeat at Everton in April of 2022, which delayed Ronaldo’s much-anticipated debut.