It’s every football fan’s dream to see their national team play in the World Cup final. But this year, another potential matchup might trump that dream: the hope of an Argentina vs. Portugal World Cup final.
In other words, Lionel Messi vs. Cristiano Ronaldo.
Every generation is blessed to witness a football legend in real-time. There was Pelé from the 50s to the 70s, Diego Maradona in the 90s, and Ronaldinho in the early 2000s. But there has never been a pair quite like Messi and Ronaldo—two indisputable talents who have not only defined an entire era of football but have defined each other’s careers just the same.
That era is soon coming to an end.
Lionel Messi has expressed that this World Cup will be his last, and while Cristiano Ronaldo hasn’t explicitly stated it, at his age, it’s likely that it will be.
And although both players still have unfinished business with their clubs—Messi at PSG and Ronaldo at Manchester United—at 35 and 37 years old respectively, the end is definitely within sight.
Thus, this World Cup is going to be monumental for the two. It marks the last chance for both of these legends to conquer a giant that neither of them has before.
Ronaldo on the World Stage
Cristiano Ronaldo is arguably the most successful football player of our time, winning titles with every club he has played for. In total, he has 32 trophies.
He won the Portuguese Super Cup with Sporting CP, three consecutive Premier League titles and one Champions League title with Manchester United, two La Liga titles and four more Champions League trophies with Real Madrid, and two Serie A titles with Juventus. And to top it all off, he has scored 700 club goals to date.
On the international level, Ronaldo holds a record of 191 appearances for Portugal, the most for any European country, and an all-time record of 117 international goals. But perhaps most notably, he led the Portuguese football team to their first-ever major international title with their Euro 2016 victory.
But, the team has never won the World Cup. Ronaldo will be looking to change that on what will likely be his last attempt.
The 37-year-old made his World Cup debut in 2006, where the team finished in fourth place—their best performance since their third-place win in 1966. Ronaldo played in every edition since his debut but has been unable to make it past the round of 16.
Things may be different this time around.
For the most part of his career, Ronaldo has been the key player in Portugal’s World Cup appearances since 2006. But this year, Portugal boasts a decent amount of young players that could potentially lead the team further than they have gone in the last two decades.
For Ronaldo, there is a lot on the line. But the same is true for Lionel Messi.
Messi on the World Stage
While Cristiano Ronaldo has won trophies for four different football clubs around Europe, Lionel Messi has only ever played for two. But he is still just as decorated, and in some respects, even more so.
Before Messi left for the French football club PSG in 2021, he dedicated his entire career to FC Barcelona. With the Spanish club, he won a total of 35 trophies, including ten La Liga Championships and four Champions League titles. After he made the move to PSG, he won the Ligue 1 title in the 2021-2022 season and is now only five goals away from scoring 700 club goals.
On the world stage, although the silverware isn’t quite as vast, Lionel Messi is still just as impressive. The Argentinian has a total of 164 appearances for the national team and has scored 91 goals—his international career was highlighted by his leadership in the World Cup.
Messi made his World Cup debut in the same year as Ronaldo in 2006. It’s only romantic that they are now both likely to end their World Cup careers in the same year as well. But, Messi has been where Ronaldo has never before: the finals.
In 2014, Messi was the key figure that led Argentina to the World Cup final against Germany, which ultimately resulted in a heartbreaking loss for the Argentine. In 2018, they failed to make it past the round of 16, but this year, they will be aiming to take their first World Cup win since 1986.
It would also be Messi’s first (and last) World Cup trophy.
With Argentina’s current streak—the national team remains unbeaten in 35 international matches—they are among the favorites to make it far in Qatar, and Messi’s leadership will be vital in his last hoorah.
The Greatest of All Time?
Both Messi and Ronaldo are legends in the sport, especially for their clubs. But to win with your national team on a stage such as the World Cup is an unparalleled achievement.
Held only four years, a player can only get so many shots at the title. And now on their final one, there is so much at stake. The coveted trophy, yes. But apart from that, for these two, Qatar 2022 is also the perfect stage to put the G.O.A.T. debate to rest.
(Although I think we all know that any G.O.A.T. debate never truly rests.)
For years, the Messi vs. Ronaldo debate has been the most talked about rivalry in football. This was especially so when both players competed on rival teams in La Liga, Messi in Barcelona, and Ronaldo in Real Madrid. Additionally, their Balon d’Or awards are also key factors in the conversation—Messi has won eight and Ronaldo has six.
We’ve heard it all throughout the years. But nothing would quite compare to a World Cup title—it would be the perfect piece to the puzzle. And so this year, all eyes will be on these two legends nearing the ends of their careers.
Who do you think will make it further in the competition?
Banner image from Planet Football.