There are few individuals in modern sport that divide fans the way Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi do. In fact, calling them ‘fans’ is a gross understatement. They would rather be followers and worshippers, part of two cults and religions.
Unlike when they play for Real Madrid and Barcelona, Ronaldo and Messi, respectively, take up the roles of underdogs for their national sides. Even though they haven’t achieved the same kind of glory playing for their countries as with their clubs, all eyes are very much on them whenever either Portugal or Argentina take to the pitch.
If Portugal beats Uruguay and Argentina beats France, it will be Argentina vs Portugal in one of the most anticipated World Cup games of all-time. Messi vs Ronaldo. RIP Twitter if this happens. pic.twitter.com/Zg1bSnWV2l
— Footy Humour (@FootyHumour) June 26, 2018
Messi, Ronaldo are usually stars in their clubs, not countries
For their national sides, Ronaldo and Messi are more than just the talismans, and more than just captains. We saw how the former managed Portugal in the final of Euro 2016, after coming off with an unfortunate injury. Manager Fernando Santos was right beside him, but it was Ronaldo pacing up and down the touchline, barking instructions and directing traffic. Messi may not cut the most vocal and animated figure on the pitch, but a lot of important decisions still go through him. On Tuesday, a camera caught Argentina manager Jorge Sampaoli asking Messi if he should bring on Kun Aguero, while the player passed on some messages to the coaching staff.
Their World Cup ’18 sojourn, thus far, has kept us on the edge of our seats
Now, they are on course to meet for the first time in a World Cup. Both Portugal and Argentina finished second in their respective groups, following some late shenanigans. Ronaldo & Co. were on the wrong end of an Iran equalizer, which saw them drop to second behind Spain in Group B. Argentina, on the other hand, scored a dramatic late winner against Nigeria to scrape through to the round of 16 from Group D.
Ronaldo had a blistering start to the tournament, scoring 4 times in his first two games. But the penalty miss against Iran could prove costly, as Portugal now comes up against a formidable Uruguay side in the last 16. Had they finished, they would have come up against hosts Russia, an arguably easier opponent.
Messi, in the meanwhile, finally came to the party after a largely anonymous couple of games. He scored a brilliant goal to give Argentina the lead in the first half, and looked lively throughout. Now, the South Americans take on France, who were one of the favourites to win the tournament before it started, but have failed to impress with their performances so far.
What we are expecting
If Portugal and Argentina get through Uruguay and France, they’ll face off in the last eight. If this does happen, it will be a spectacle that everyone who is even remotely interested in football will play audience to. Social media websites will explode, and you can be sure that every person on the street will have an opinion.
The turbulent events of the last couple of days have set the stage for the two contemporary greats to face off at the greatest stage of them all. Their teams may be the underdogs in the last 16, but as neutrals who love the game, there’s no doubt whatsoever that we want to see this happen.
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