Messi and Ronaldo out as knockouts start

Devastation: Neither Messi nor Ronaldo has scored a goal in a World Cup knockout match.

Can either Messi or Ronaldo be called the best player of all time? Both Argentina and Portugal crashed out Saturday, meaning both players are unlikely to ever get their hands on a World Cup medal.

This weekend the World Cup got serious.

After 48 matches, the group stage has ended. Sixteen teams progressed to the knockout round. Now there are just 12 left. Yesterday, hosts Russia stunned Spain and Croatia defeated Denmark. But it was on Saturday that this thrilling World Cup hit a new level.

In a matter of hours, football’s two biggest stars saw their dreams of glory come to an end. Lionel Messi’s desperately flawed Argentina were felled by a rampant France, while Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal were edged out by determined, gutsy Uruguay.

Had things gone differently, the two pre-eminent players of their generation could have faced each other in the quarter-final.

Instead, both are now out — not only of this year’s tournament but perhaps the World Cup forever.

By the time the next World Cup is held in 2022, Messi will be 35 and Ronaldo will be 38. Ronaldo, an astonishing physical specimen, will probably play even at that age. Messi, who has toyed with retiring from international football in the past, is less likely. But both would be well into the twilight of their careers.

Football has never seen a duopoly like Messi and Ronaldo. Between them they have hogged the last 10 Ballon d’Ors, each winning five, two more than anyone else. Both are seriously talked about as being the greatest players ever.

But, unless something extraordinary happens in 2022, both will have one terrible blot on their career: no World Cup win. Messi has been to the final, Ronaldo a semi-final.

This is in contrast to the pair’s two most obvious competitors for the title of best footballer of all time.

Pelé and Diego Maradona’s careers are both defined by the World Cup. Pelé burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old when Brazil won the 1958 World Cup. He won it again in 1970. Fast-forward 16 years to Mexico ‘86, where Diego Maradona almost single-handedly hauled Argentina to the title.

Messi and Ronaldo’s club careers are filled with memorable moments. But do their World Cup woes detract from their greatness?

Unfinished business

Of course not, say some. Your failures should never define you. Football is a team game: it is always forgotten that Pelé and Maradona were surrounded by other stars. And the World Cup has been eclipsed by the Champions League as football’s elite competition. Messi and Ronaldo have thrived there. Forget their World Cup misfortune.

Wrong, say others. Regardless of quality, the World Cup remains the pinnacle of the game. You simply have to turn up when it matters. At the peak of any field it is tiny differences that separate the very best from the rest. Messi and Ronaldo must be held responsible for their failure here. It is a blot on their careers.

You Decide

  1. Who is better: Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo?
  2. And is either the greatest player of all time?


  1. Class debate: “This house believes it is pointless to compare players from two utterly different eras.”
  2. Think of a major historical figure whose life or career ended in defeat. To what extent does it tarnish his or her legacy?

Some People Say...

“You have to show up in the World Cup, and in the World Cup anything can happen.”

Lionel Messi

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, by far the two greatest footballers of the 21st century, are out of the World Cup. Argentina lost 4-3 to France while Portugal lost 2-1 to Uruguay. Neither country was among the front-runners to win it, but both will be disappointed to go out at this stage. Both Ronaldo and Messi are considered by some to be the greatest players of all time.
What do we not know?
Just who is the greatest player of all time. It is incredibly hard to compare Pelé, who spent most of his career playing in Brazil in the 1960s, to someone who plays at the top level of European football in 2018. We also do not know if Messi or Ronaldo will be at the next World Cup in Qatar in 2022.

Word Watch

Russia stunned Spain
Hosts Russia knocked out one of the pre-tournament favourites after winning a penalty shootout. Russia are in the same half of the draw as England, who will now face no true footballing superpowers on the way to the final.
He would be far from the oldest player to appear at the World Cup. That record is held by Egypt’s goalkeeper Essam El-Hadary, who played at this World Cup at the age of 45.
Toyed with retiring
Messi retired briefly from international football after Argentina lost in the final of the 2016 Copa America (a tournament for teams from the Americas). He quickly reversed his decision.
The last 10 Ballon d’Ors
Both came second in the years the other came first. Messi won it in 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2015; Ronaldo in 2008, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017.
No World Cup win
Ronaldo has won the European Championships, while Messi has never won a senior international honour.
The Brazil team of the 1970 World Cup is generally agreed to have been the greatest international team of all time.


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