One is the world’s best known footballer, the other the most valuable. They have scored the same number of Champions League goals and are loaded down with titles. But superstars Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are stuck in a World Cup dead end. Between them, Messi and Ronaldo have monopolised the past six world player of the year awards. But each have attended the last two World Cups and failed to even get near the trophy. Messi has scored just one goal at the finals; Ronaldo only two.
Now though the weight of Argentinian hopes rests on Messi’s slight shoulders. Portugal are going to be desperate for Ronaldo’s goals to get out of one of the most difficult groups in the contest.
The Brazil World Cup could finally decide whether the name of Messi or Ronaldo is etched into the football hall of fame alongside greats like Pele, Diego Maradona and Zinedine Zidane. It is the competition which transforms reputations.
What sets them apart from the pack
Messi captured three Champions League wins with Barcelona while Ronaldo responded by adding a crown for Real Madrid last month to his earlier success with Manchester United.
Both average more than 50 goals a year in all competitions for their clubs. Ronaldo is the world’s most recognisable and marketable footballer, according to the Repucom, a sports marketing research company.
The case for the elevation of Messi and Ronaldo to the almost deified heights of Pele and Maradona would surely be unanswerable if either were to lift the trophy on July 13 in Rio.
“Both players are incredibly great athletes and both have outstanding qualities,” said Ottmar Hitzfeld, the respected German coach who will be in charge of Switzerland at the World Cup.
“Both can win a match in their club or national team on their own.”
But the World Cup, high pressure over one month, is vastly different from the Spanish league and Champions League duties which Messi and Ronaldo so brilliantly execute week in, week out.
Maradona is adamant that “Messi doesn’t have to win the World Cup to be the best in the world”.
For the 1986 world champion, “one world title more or one less can’t take anything away from anything Messi has achieved to be where he is today”. With Messi having enjoyed a less than stellar campaign with Barcelona this season – and having seen Ronaldo take the Fifa Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player away from him – the World Cup is his chance to crown a loaded career trophy haul.
Ronaldo, in contrast, comes into the World Cup on the back of Real’s first Champions League win in 12 years – though his exploits have taken a toll as he struggles with thigh and knee problems.
Judging players from different eras is an impossible task, but it is clear that if one of these two legends wins the World Cup, they will have a strong case to elbow Pele and Maradona aside.
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