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Inter Miami to play 2 matches in Saudi Arabia. Messi vs. Ronaldo will happen Feb. 1

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will meet in Saudi Arabia after all.

Inter Miami confirmed Monday that it will take part in the Riyadh Season Cup — something that was announced by Saudi officials on Nov. 21. Inter Miami said the reports at that time were inaccurate.

Inter Miami will play Al-Hilal on Jan. 29 and Al Nassr — Ronaldo's team — on Feb. 1. Those two clubs lead the Saudi Pro League and Ronaldo is that league's leading scorer.

“These matches will offer important tests for our team, which will benefit us as we approach the new season," Inter Miami sporting director Chris Henderson said. “We’re excited for our group to get the chance to go up against teams with as much quality as Al-Hilal and Al Nassr.”

Messi and Ronaldo have faced off 35 times between matches for club and country, Inter Miami said, with Messi's teams winning 16, Ronaldo's teams winning 10 and the sides settling for a draw on the other nine occasions. Messi has 21 goals and 12 assists in those matches; Ronaldo has 20 goals and one assist.

Messi has promoted tourism in Saudi Arabia and in May was suspended by former club Paris Saint-Germain for making an unauthorized trip to the country. He also played in this year’s Riyadh Season Cup when PSG was the guest team.

Saudi Arabia has made a major push to be a big player in world soccer by signing some of the game’s biggest players amid allegations of sportswashing. But it couldn’t lure Messi to the oil-rich kingdom when he left PSG at the end of last season, with the eight-time Ballon d’Or winner opting to move to Major League Soccer instead.

Messi and Ronaldo are widely considered to be two of the greatest players of all-time and competed against each other for soccer’s biggest prizes during their prime years at Barcelona and Real Madrid, respectively.

Inter Miami now has four preseason matches announced, with one against the El Salvador national team on Jan. 19 and a match against a team of top players in Hong Kong on Feb. 4. The MLS schedule is expected to begin in late February.

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The Associated Press