Monday, Aug 20, 2018 | Last Update : 02:15 AM IST
Although Lionel Messi is two years younger than Cristiano Ronaldo, it would be difficult for him to carry on until 2022 if he falls short in Russia.
No two contemporaries had ever enjoyed such a productive duopoly on European football like Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. The two have indeed transcended the sport that pits 11 vs 11. The achievements of Messi and Ronaldo are mindboggling. It’s inconceivable that the two gladiatorial players will be upstaged any time soon.
Messi and Ronaldo, however, come up short when they are weighed on the World Cup scale, as neither of them has a winners’ medal in the quadrennial spectacle. Fans of Pele, Diego Maradona, and Zinedine Zidane would tell you that minimum qualification to enter the football pantheon is a World Cup. Of course, not all World Cup winners can aspire to enter the sanctum sanctorum of the beautiful game.
Messi and Ronaldo wouldn’t mind trading their multiple Champions League medals for the ultimate prize at the 2018 Fifa World Cup. For all practical purposes, Russia represents the pair’s last realistic chance. Ronaldo, he of granite body and rippling muscles, is ready to keep playing until he is 40. Given his commitment and the way he takes care of his body, the Portuguese can certainly keep kicking a ball around until midlife crisis but the big question is whether he can inspire his country to the summit in 2022 or 2026 if he fails to do so in 2018. Ronaldo’s legacy is on a firmer ground than Messi’s because he was part of the Portuguese side that defied the odds to win Euro 2016.
Messi has won zilch for his national team. He was the bridesmaid in three tournaments starting from the 2014 World Cup. The final in Rio de Janeiro was tailor-made for Messi to stamp his class. Argentina, clearly the better team than Germany at the Maracana, had a glorious opportunity to clinch a third World Cup. The hour came but the man didn’t as an off-colour Messi allowed the match to drift into extra-time. Super Sub Mario Gotze did the rest for Germany.
Messi’s failure to lead Argentina past Chile in two successive Copa America finals was an even more forgettable chapter in a storied career. If Argentina’s fragile mental strength contributed to their meltdown in three finals, the inability of Messi to lead from the front can’t be glossed over either. Maradona was made of sterner stuff. That’s why Argentine fans never get tired of singing his praises. Messi’s serial failures compel one to think that Argentina can also play better without him. Argentina has also been unlucky in not being able to find a midfield maestro who can pull the strings a la Andrea Pirlo or Xavi or Andres Iniesta or Wesley Sneijder. Even their current squad is heavy in the forward line but light in midfield. Although Messi is two years younger than Ronaldo, it would be difficult for him to carry on until 2022 if he falls short in Russia.
There is no doubt that Messi and Ronaldo are both once-in-a-lifetime players but the missing World Cup medal certainly makes their case weaker when they are weighed with Pele, Maradona, and Zidane.
Last for this quartet as well...
The Fifa World Cup in Russia could well be the farewell tournament for quite a few big names. If Lionel Messi doesn’t win the title it would almost be impossible for him to go to Qatar four years later. And, Ronaldo will be 37 in 2022. Apart from the big two, we will also look at other prominent names that could be having their swansong in Russia.
Andrés Iniesta (34, Spain)
he scored the winning goal at the 2010 World Cup, may well hang up his international boots after Russia. It would not only be a loss to Spain but also to the football world.
World Cup debut: Saudi Arabia 0-1 Spain, 23 June 2006
Tournaments: 2006, 2010, 2014
Appearances so far: 10
Memorable World Cup moment: Scoring the goal that won the Final at South Africa 2010.
Tim Cahill (38, Aus)
Nobody would dispute his commitment. The combative player’s goals were the constant in Australia’s last three World Cups.
World Cup debut: Australia 3-1 Japan, 12 June 2006
Tournaments: 2006, 2010, 2014 Appearances so far: 8
Memorable World Cup moment: His superb volley against the Netherlands at Brazil 2014.
Javier Mascherano (33, Argentina):
He is the second most important player in the Argentina squad after Lionel Messi. Can he go all the way in Russia?
World Cup debut: Argentina 2-1 Cote d’Ivoire, 10 June 2006
Tournaments: 2006, 2010, 2014
Appearances so far: 16
Memorable World Cup moment: His last-ditch tackle to deny Arjen Robben a winning goal in the SF of 2014.
Rafael Marquez (39, Mexico): No one typifies Mexico’s passion for football than this gnarled veteran of many a battle. His love for the green shirt of Mexico can easily rub off on his team mates. Marquez is all set for a record-equalling fifth World Cup. For sure, Russia is his last.
World Cup debut: Mexico 1-0 Croatia, 3 June 2002
Tournaments: 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014
Appearances so far: 16
Memorable World Cup moment: Scoring the equaliser in the
opening game of South Africa 2010.
Stat courtesy: www.Fifa.com