Qatar as probably the last World Cup

The two world footballers have shaped their sport like no other. Will they succeed at what will probably be their last World Cup? One thing is certain: her legacy is overwhelming.

The best jokers in (soccer) games: Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Getty Images/AsiaPac

It was a moment of stardom that football itself rarely experiences. Argentina had their backs against the wall, Argentina needed him. And Lionel Messi appeared. In an atmospheric but tough game against Mexico on Saturday evening, after a good hour, he scored the goal that made the World Cup dream come true. “Vamos,” he shouted at the stands with a flickering gaze, tears welled up for his coaches on the bench.

Messi’s face was superimposed on the video screen and his crowd, the majority of the nearly 89,000 spectators in the Lusail World Cup final stadium, gave him a standing ovation. As he himself said before the tournament: “Take it on, try it, and then may what God wills happen.”

God wants it to go a little further.

Maradona always plays as a foil with Messi

In the end he also scored the final 2-0 against Mexico. Messi, 35, has become the first player to provide an assist in five World Cups. Even more amazing, he is now the youngest player to score and assist in the same World Cup match, against Serbia and Montenegro in 2006, and also the oldest to do so. In addition, he is now exactly at the values ​​​​of Argentina’s other football saint, Diego Maradona, who died two years ago: 21 World Cup games, eight goals.

Lionel Messi on Saturday night after beating Mexico 1-0.

Lionel Messi on Saturday night after beating Mexico 1-0.

Ariel Shalit / AP

Maradona always plays as a foil with Messi. Just like, inevitably: Cristiano Ronaldo.

The eternal rival is also currently completing his fifth World Cup in Qatar. He, too, has set a new record: The record goalscorer in international football (118 goals) was the first to score in the opener against Ghana (3-2), also in a fifth championship. On Monday his Portuguese play against Uruguay.

The dramaturgy could be worse, maybe it’s heading for a historic high point, and one manages his first world title at the last opportunity. In any case, after a tournament week, the duo, as always, outshines everything else. All you have to do is watch the unleashed spectators at their games. Or the crowds of journalists still late at night in the interview zone, all hoping for a scrap of words, some kind of gesture. Can you imagine a World Cup, can you imagine football without them?

Certainly they are least able to do that themselves. Messi, about whom it was always said that one had to understand how to interpret his silence, is in Qatar almost in chatter mode. When he finally turns up at the reporters’ desk two full hours after midnight, the rest of the team is already on the bus, the decisive group game against Poland on Wednesday is waiting, and the spokesman keeps trying to pull him away. But Messi stops at one group and at the next. Answer this question and that one too. “A lot of nervousness” was involved, and the victory meant a “great liberation”.

Then, as he talks about 21-year-old Enzo Fernández, on whom he set up the second goal, a pensive smile fills his face. Maybe he’s thinking back to himself at this moment, little Lionel at his first World Cup, with his whole career still ahead of him.

The Argentine team sings a song featuring Messi

He’s gotten to the point where he celebrates a win like the one against Mexico with his team in the dressing room with a chant that includes himself. “I was born in Argentina, the land of Diego and Lionel,” the song begins. A number of teammates had his posters hanging in their children’s rooms. Just as the Portuguese international defender António Silva does not flirt when he says: “I don’t remember watching football without Cristiano.” When he was born in October 2003, Ronaldo was already playing for Manchester United.

Argentina’s victory celebration after the game against Mexico: a song that also includes Messi himself.

Ronaldo parted ways with this Manchester last week. After an unsuccessful return, he went on strike, bucked and blasphemed until the club released him from his contract. The reason for his campaign was that Manchester doesn’t play in the Champions League, and even at 37 he still sees it as his only worthy habitat. In addition to a World Cup, of course. The hype surrounding him here and a strong start remind potential buyers of what he can still achieve. But many top clubs consider it too difficult after recent events. It is possible that he will be performing on a very large stage in Qatar for the last time.

So it doesn’t help, the melancholy sends its harbingers. But only when the years and decades go by without there being such players again, at least not at the same time – only then will one really grasp what kind of time that was.

Messi and Ronaldo, it was like a never-ending boxing match. They both scored, year after year, match after match. It’s no coincidence that their most productive epochs coincided when they both played in the Spanish league for rival giants Barcelona and Real Madrid between 2009 and 2018. If one scored three goals on Saturday night, the other wanted to score four on Sunday afternoon. For ten consecutive years, Messi has scored at least 40 goals per season, with 91 goals in 2012 alone. Ronaldo celebrated a total of 450 goals in 438 games for the Madrilenians. Numbers from another dimension, year after year.

It was an era that changed football. At Ronaldo’s debut in 2002, the turnover of the richest club was a good 200 million euros. Today the clubs are scratching the billion mark. At that time, the best players earned five million euros a year, today, like Messi, they can win over 100 million in Barcelona until last year or now Kylian Mbappé in Paris. Social media carry their faces to the furthest corners of the world. You had to imagine Pelé, you might get a glimpse of Maradona. Today, Ronaldo has 500 million followers every day on Instagram alone, more than anyone else.

“I’m a strawberry, people want to bite me”

Did football make them so great – or did they only allow football to grow into such spheres? “I’m a strawberry, people want to bite me,” Ronaldo said in an interview about the split from Manchester United, and he not only mentioned his goals, but also “good looks” and “charisma”. His ego has reached the limit of the excessive, who can be surprised after two decades of cult. Pride and narcissism are his greatest motivations, but also his weaknesses.

Cristiano Ronaldo playing the national anthem before the game against Portugal: his ego has reached the limit of excess.  reacts while listening to the Portugal's national anthem prior the start of the

Cristiano Ronaldo playing the national anthem before the game against Portugal: his ego has reached the limit of excess. reacts while listening to the Portugal’s national anthem prior the start of the

Manu Fernández / AP

Ronaldo’s personality has never nestled as easily as Messi’s, who has always invoked a sort of protective instinct. He came to Barcelona when he was 13 because nobody in Argentina could pay for growth treatment; a shy genius for whom the club built an oasis of well-being, from which a monster soon grew, not just in sport. Messi exercised his power discreetly, but it did not remain hidden. “I know you can get me fired with a call to the president, but dammit, you don’t have to show me that every day,” coach Gerardo Martino said back in 2013.

Just sulking sparked club crises, and when he was prosecuted for tax evasion – as was his rival later – Barça launched a solidarity campaign. Ronaldo always envied him being spoiled like that.

Keeping up with the more talented Messi is therefore his greatest achievement. He achieved it thanks to an armor of strength acquired when he left his native island of Madeira at the same age as Messi and was ridiculed at Sporting Lisbon boarding school for his accent. Or when he was declared an enemy of the state after the 2006 World Cup because of his wink at Wayne Rooney being sent off in England and still continued to score his goals in Manchester unperturbed.

Where Messi has a high need for security, Ronaldo is a poker player. Even if he sometimes gambles, like most recently in Manchester, like in 2018 with his move from Madrid to Juventus Turin.

Due to different experiences and sensitivities, the epoch boxers also dealt differently with the hits they had to take. Messi temporarily resigned from the national team in 2016 because he saw himself as the root of all failure and shed a sea of ​​tears when Barca slammed the door on his financial crisis in 2021. Ronaldo, on the other hand, reacts aggressively to doubts.

Ronaldo wants to play until he is 40

This also allows predictions to be made as to how they will end their careers. Messi recently said he won’t be playing much longer and he certainly won’t impose himself on anyone, that’s his form of pride. Ronaldo, who is two and a half years his senior, has clear ideas: “I want to play until I’m 40.”

And the World Cup? “Magic” would be the title, according to Ronaldo, but: “I’m not missing anything, I have everything”. who believes it Portugal provide a highly talented team. Even if everyone looks more to Argentina because it is Argentina. And because of Messi. A World Cup win for him would be seen as a kind of debt settlement for football.

Just in time for the tournament, luxury label Louis Vuitton brought the two together for a game of chess (at least visually). Metaphorically, it negotiates their eternal duel. The recording by Annie Leibovitz has received around 70 million likes on Instagram so far, making it a world record. matter of honour. Like the fact that Ronaldo was the first to formulate a challenge in Qatar: “I want to checkmate Messi on the pitch”. Meanwhile, experts recognized the position of the pieces in the photo as a quote from a game between chess grandmasters Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura.

The game ended in a draw.

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