The rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo is well documented. One at Barcelona the other at archrival Real Madrid, each year the two standout players in world football battle it out to outscore, outperform and out do the other to be crowned the best at the FIFA Ballon d’Or awards.
On top of the obvious rivalry between the two is the old football cliche that no player deemed to be one of the best that ever played the game can join the elite without shining at a world cup. Pele won three of the four he played in, Maradona starred in the side that lifted the trophy in ’86; if Ronaldo and Messi want to talked about among the best there ever was, they need to deliver on the highest stage.
Brazil had nothing for Ronaldo but disappointment. Many questioned the 29-year-old’s fitness going into the competition and he did nothing of note in his opening game, a 4-0 thrashing at the hands of Germany. The second match wasn’t much better. Ronaldo, showing just a glimpse of his ability, provided a pinpoint cross for Silvestre Varela to equalise late against the USA.
Portugal needed a miracle to advance beyond their final group game against Ghana but it did not come, Ronaldo capitalized on a goalkeeping error to score late, but it wasn’t enough for his side and with that, one of the world’s greatest players was heading home.
For Messi, on the other hand, it has been a different story. He showed that familiar finishing magic to score in his first game, a 2-1 win over Bosnia. Then against Iran he saved Argentina by scoring a beautiful individual goal in second half stoppage time to steal a 1-0 victory.
In the final group game against Nigeria it took Messi just three minutes to find the net and he scored his second of the day before halftime, his side 3-1 winners in that game. With a 1-0 win against Switzerland and a quarterfinal coming up against Belgium, the world’s eyes will be on Messi to see if he can take the step from greatest living player to one of the very greatest that ever lived.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, will have to wait in the wings and wonder whether or not he had missed his opportunity to cement his legend. he will be 33 by the time the Russian World Cup rolls around, an age when most players are well past their prime.