RIYADH: A Saudi real estate mogul won a ticket to see Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi face off in a friendly after bidding US$2.6 million at auction, an official said Tuesday.
The match on Thursday in Riyadh is set to pit Messi’s Paris St Germain against a select side made up of players from Ronaldo’s new club Al Nassr and their Saudi rivals Al Hilal.
It will mark the first time Ronaldo has played any football in the kingdom since signing a contract with Al Nassr that runs until 2025 and is worth more than €200 million (US$214 million), according to sources close to the club.
The five-time Ballon d’Or winner is scheduled to make his Saudi Pro League debut for Al Nassr on Sunday.
To promote Thursday’s friendly, Turki al-Sheikh, an advisor at the Royal Court and head of Saudi Arabia’s General Entertainment Authority, announced a charity auction for a special ticket that would come with perks like photo opportunities with players and access to the locker rooms.
Bidding started at one million Saudi riyals (US$266,000) and the auction closed at 11.30pm local time on Tuesday.
Sheikh then announced on Twitter the winning bid of 10 million riyals (US$2.6 million) had come from Mushref al-Ghamdi.
“Congratulations, you deserve it, and may God reward you with good,” Sheikh said.
The proceeds from the auction are due to go to the national charity campaign known as Ehsan.
Besides Messi, PSG stars expected to play on Thursday include France striker Kylian Mbappe and Achraf Hakimi, who last year in Qatar helped make Morocco the first Arab and African team to reach the World Cup semifinals.
The Saudi select team includes Salem Al-Dawsari, who scored the winning goal in the Green Falcons’ shock defeat of Argentina in the World Cup’s group stage.
Oil-rich monarchy Saudi Arabia, which has been snapping up sports assets as part of a drive to soften its austere image, is often accused of “sportswashing”, or using sport to distract attention from human rights controversies.
Ronaldo is expected to receive a combined €400 million in the kingdom, including a separate payment for his work as an ambassador for an anticipated World Cup bid for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Greece, according to sources close to Al Nassr.