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2024 Kickoff: Messi and Ronaldo Face Challenges – Exploring the Paths Ahead for Football Legends

Less than a month remains before their teams' first official matches. Meanwhile, the Argentine could not score, and the Portuguese was injured.

FIFA Recognition and Winter Training Camps

In January, FIFA recognized Lionel Messi as the best footballer of the year. This decision caused bewilderment, considering that the Argentine achieved no severe success in 2023. It was also surprising that Cristiano Ronaldo was not even included in the top 30. The Portuguese, in turn, took three awards at the Globe Soccer Awards ceremony. And how are Messi and Ronaldo's teams spending their winter training camps? And when will they play their first official matches in 2024?

Messi's Friendly Matches and Ronaldo's China Tour

Messi has already played two friendly matches but has not scored once, just like the Inter Miami team.

Inter Miami has already played two friendly matches. First, Gerardo Martino's team faced the Salvadoran national team. The manager of the American club fielded a reasonably strong lineup from the first minutes. All the famous players of the team were in the starting lineup: Messi, Jordi Alba, Sergio Busquets, and newcomer Luis Suárez. However, they were all replaced at halftime.

By the way, Messi had the most obvious opportunity to open the score. Towards the end of the half, the Salvadoran goalkeeper dealt twice with the shots of the star veteran. Interestingly, the plane with Inter Miami landed in El Salvador, and a red carpet was laid out for the club members. The ticket prices for the game ranged from $200 to $475, although third-party vendors likely inflated the amount even more. Nevertheless, about 53 thousand spectators watched Messi's first offseason game.

Inter Miami arrived in Texas a few days later, where a friendly game awaited them against Dallas. Usually, this team plays home games in Frisco, a suburb of Dallas, and the stadium accommodates about 20 thousand spectators. But the club played the match at "Cotton Bowl" stadium for Messi's offseason visit. Over 32 thousand people attended the game, although the relatively cold weather (4°C) might have deterred some. But overall, the impressive arena (capacity - about 92 thousand spectators) looked half-empty.

"Playing against Messi is an incredible opportunity," said Dallas President Dan Hunt before the match. "Most players simply don't get such a chance. And he's the greatest player of all time. Perhaps only Pele surpasses him. It's great that Messi ended up in our market."

Messi, Suárez, Alba, and Busquets again found themselves in the starting lineup. The defender played the entire match, and the others were replaced in the 64th minute. However, this did not help Inter Miami — they lost 0-1. On the other hand, it is entirely unclear how the Miami club left the field without goals.

Messi, on the other hand, looked very decent. First, Leo almost scored from a corner kick — the goalkeeper pulled the ball off the line. Then, the goalkeeper parried Messi's dangerous shot into the far corner. At the end of the half, Leo brilliantly set up Suárez, but Luis missed the target from a good position. And all this in the first 45 minutes!

Ronaldo's China Experience and Unexpected Setbacks

Ronaldo flew to China with Al Nassr. But the match with Shanghai Shenhua was canceled.

Unlike Messi, Ronaldo has not yet played on the field in 2024. However, Al Nassr arrived in China, where they were supposed to play friendly matches against local clubs. The Saudi club flew there with Ronaldo, causing serious excitement at the airport. A crowd tried to reach the Portuguese star to take a photo or get an autograph. Airport staff forcibly held back the fans.

However, the next day, Al Nassr reported Ronaldo's injury. For this reason, the club will not play against Shanghai Shenhua or Changchun.

"We are very sorry to inform you that Al-Nasr's winter tour will be postponed due to Cristiano Ronaldo's health problems. He cannot play due to an injury. Fans will be refunded the full amount for tickets and reimbursed for flight and hotel expenses," said the Al Nassr press service.

Ronaldo said he would return to China: "I am unfortunate because we, with Al Nassr, came to China to enjoy the tour. I feel at home here. Now I'm sad. I know you are sad, especially those who love Cristiano, but we must see something good here. We did not cancel the game; we want to play it and come back here — and we will. Unfortunately, now I have some problems, but this is part of football and my life."

What's next?

Inter Miami has a busy schedule. The team will travel to Asia and visit three countries. In Saudi Arabia, they will face two top clubs — Al Hilal (January 29) and Al Nassr (February 1). After that, the American club will fly to Hong Kong, where they will play a match (February 4) against the national team of the best players in the local championship. Tickets for this game (the stadium accommodates about 40 thousand spectators) were sold out in one hour. On February 7, Inter Miami will play in Japan against the local club Vissel Kobe, for which Andres Iniesta once played.

On February 16, Inter Miami will play a friendly match with the Argentine club Newell's Old Boys. By the way, Messi played for this team as a child. It was from there that he later moved to the Barcelona academy. The regular MLS season for Inter Miami starts on February 22. They will meet Real Salt Lake at their home stadium that day.

Al Nassr has friendly matches with Inter Miami (February 1) and Al Hilal (February 8). The Saudi Arabian league will resume on February 17. Still, before that, Al Nassr will play the first match of the Asian Champions League Round of 16. On the 14th, they will face Al Fayha, representing the Saudi league. The return match is scheduled for February 21.

Published by Patrick Jane