Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo – a rivalry that has defined a generation. Two players who have stood above everyone else and dominated the world of football. Such has been their dominance that the two have shared the coveted Ballon d’Or award 12 times between them.
They have won countless trophies, apart from breaking almost every record that there is. However, they are all but mere mortals and as such can be stopped with the right combination of determination, grit and intelligence.
Apart from that, you also need a bit of luck and hope either of the two to have an off day or for you to be at your brilliant best. There are five such defenders who have managed to pull off this incredible feat of stopping arguably modern era’s two greatest players and for that they deserve our hat tip and acknowledgment.
Obviously, they did have some help from their teammates too. When the modern greats look back on these encounters they will feel that they could have done better during the game, but it is done and cannot be changed.
So without further ado, we take a look at the five players who have stopped Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi:
Arne Friedrich vs Cristiano Ronaldo UEFA Euro 2008 quarter-final (Portugal 2-3 Germany)
In the quarterfinals of Euro 2008, Germany came face-to-face against Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. Die Mannschaft were looking to reach the semifinal of the competition for the first time since 1996 while Portugal were looking to vanquish the ghost of their defeat against Greece in the final of Euro 2004 at home.
However, at St. Jakob-Park, it was Joachim Low’s side who prevailed courtesy of a 3-2 win over Luiz Felipe Scolari’s men. The Germans took the lead through Bastian Schweinsteiger before Miroslav Klose doubled the advantage. Portugal pulled one back through Nuno Gomes but Michael Ballack hit them with a sucker punch.
Scolari’s side scored another in the closing minutes of the game through Helder Postiga but were unable to force the game into extra-time, thereby crashing out of the tournament at the quarter-final stage for the first time in eight years.
Ronaldo was subdued for much of the game and it was Friedrich's genius at right-back that didn’t allow the Portuguese star to have the desired impact on the game. Ronaldo did get the better of the German on one occasion, which led to the latter’s booking. However, that was the only time he got the better of the lanky German in the entire game.
Friedrich, along with some help from Per Mertesacker, was able to shackle Ronaldo, denying him the space or the time to do the damage that we all know he is capable of.
The loss ended another promising campaign for Ronaldo and his team as their search for that elusive maiden international honour lingered. Germany progressed to lose to Spain in the final of the tournament.
Arne Friedrich vs Lionel Messi FIFA World Cup 2010 quarterfinal (Argentina 0-4 Germany)
Having watched from the bench as his side were ousted by Germany in a penalty shootout loss in the 2006 World Cup quarter-final, Lionel Messi was determined to make Die Mannschaft pay for it. The two teams met again at the World Cup in 2010, again in the quarter-finals, but this time the result was far more humiliating.
Joachim Low’s side annihilated Diego Maradona’s Argentina en route to recording a 4-0 win. Thomas Muller opened the scoring in only the third minute of the game before Miroslav Klose netted twice on either side of Arne Freidrich’s strike.
Friedrich, who had denied Ronaldo at the 2008 Euros starting at right-back, was starting in the heart of the defence and kept the mercurial Messi subdued, who was playing in the hole behind Higuain and Tevez. Such was the dominance of the German defence that La Albiceleste were forced into taking hopeful long-distance shots for the majority of the game.
The central defensive pairing of Friedrich and Mertesacker kept the vaunted attack of Argentina at bay and Messi was forced to drop deeper to try and make things happen but he was only able to have limited to no impact. The diminutive Argentine was left in tears after the game and Maradona resigned immediately after from his post.
The South American nation’s hopes of winning their first World Cup in 24 years were dashed and Messi was heavily criticized back home for not being able to guide an average team to the pinnacle of world football, a feat that Maradona managed to pull off in 1986.
Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini vs Cristiano Ronaldo UEFA Champions League 2014/15 semi-final second-leg (Real Madrid 1-1 Juventus | Agg 2-3)
Real Madrid and Juventus met each other in the semi-final of the 2014/15 season where the Old Lady knocked out Los Blancos to set up a final clash against Barcelona, which they lost 3-1.
Juventus secured a 2-1 win over Carlo Ancelotti’s side in the first-leg at the Juventus Stadium. Alvaro Morata and Carlos Tevez got on the scoresheet for the home side while Ronaldo scored the crucial away goal for the visitors.
This set up a mouth-watering second leg clash at the Santiago Bernabeu and Madrid needed a solitary goal to ensure progression if they could stop the Turin outfit from scoring. Cristiano Ronaldo opened the scoring from the penalty spot after James Rodriguez was fouled inside the box. However, Massimiliano Allegri’s side pulled level courtesy of Alvaro Morata’s strike and in doing so canceled out Madrid’s away goal advantage with less than 35 minutes left on the clock.
Ronaldo, Bale and company tried in vain as Bonucci and Chiellini put forth a defensive display of the highest order. The two didn’t allow Ronaldo and Bale any room in the final third of the pitch and their towering presence in the box was pivotal as they also negated the aerial threat possessed by Ronaldo.
Ronaldo tried his best but he just wasn’t afforded the time, space or even a sniff of goal by the duo as Real Madrid succumbed at the final hurdle. Otherwise, it could have set up a mouth-watering El Clasico final but it was not to be.
Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini vs Lionel Messi
UEFA Champions League 2016/17 quarter-final second leg (Barcelona 0-0 Juventus | Agg 0-3)
While the two Italian stalwarts kept Ronaldo and company at bay in 2015, they did the same to the magical trio of Messi-Suarez-Neymar in the 2016/17 season. Juventus played Barcelona off the park in the first-leg at the Juventus Stadium where Paulo Dybala stole the show, scoring twice in the opening 22 minutes of the game.
The Catalan giants tried their best to find a way back into the game but couldn’t find a way past the centre-back pairing of Bonucci and Chiellini. The latter then further compounded Barcelona’s woes by rising highest in the box to head home the Old Lady’s third goal of the game.
Barcelona had a mountain to climb in the second leg as they needed three goals to force extra-time and four to win the tie if Juventus didn’t score. The Catalan giants had mounted one of the greatest comebacks of all-time when they overturned a 4-0 deficit against Paris Saint-Germain to ensure progression to the quarters by virtue of a 6-5 win. But Juventus were no PSG and Barcelona found it out the hard way.
At Camp Nou in the second leg, the onus was once again on Messi to lead his side to another improbable comeback but Bonucci and Chiellini produced a defensive masterclass of the highest order. Not only did they stifle Barcelona's iconic front three, but they forced them into taking hopeful shots from outside of the box. The statistics at the end of the game were a testament to this. Out of the 17 shots attempted by Barcelona, only one was on target.
Not only had Bonucci and Chiellini put forth an imperious display, they had put the Blaugrana stars out of the game and Messi played one of the worst games of his life in a Barcelona shirt.
Sergio Ramos vs Cristiano Ronaldo UEFA Euro 2012 semi-final (Portugal 0-0 Spain | Penalties 2-4)
While Cristiano Ronaldo was subdued by Arne Freidrich in the quarter-finals of the 2008 Euros, it was his Real Madrid teammate, Sergio Ramos, who stopped him in the semi-finals of the 2012 European Championship.
The Spaniard benefitted from having played alongside Ronaldo for years and he put his knowledge of the Portuguese’s game to good effect as he was able to overwhelm his friend in the all-important clash, albeit with some help from Barcelona’s Gerard Pique.
Both sides struggled to assert their dominance in the game as they opted a defensive game plan with the sole aim being not to concede. Ronaldo is capable of unlocking the best defences in the world with his pace, trickery and insane shooting. However, not on that day. He had minimal impact during the game as Ramos was successfully able to keep him in check.
The game progressed to penalties and Ronaldo changed the order of the spot-kicks at the last moment so that he could take the all-important fifth kick. However, his plan backfired as Iker Casillas saved Joao Moutinho’s spot kick, while Bruno Alves’ shot cannoned off the crossbar and Portugal’s fate was sealed even before Ronaldo could take the last penalty.
Sergio Ramos vs Lionel Messi
Lionel Messi made all the headlines for his heroic double in the El Clasico in 2017 – including a last second winner – which kept the Catalan giants in the title race, somehow. They went on to lose the title to Real Madrid on the final day of the season finishing three points behind their arch-rivals.
However, the game helped Messi end a goal drought in El Clasicos, having not scored in the last six of them, three of which were won by the Santiago Bernabeu outfit. Not only in these six, but countless other ones in which Messi has not scored, it has been down to some brilliant defending by Sergio Ramos – the one constant in Real Madrid’s defence.
Whether Messi operated in the hole, or in the false nine position, or on the right wing, the Spanish defender ensured that he did not afford the time and space for Messi to wreck havoc.
While Barcelona have a much better head-to-head record than Real Madrid since Messi’s debut, whenever the Argentine star has been subdued or stopped from scoring, Ramos has played a pivotal role, be it with his intelligent man-marking, his robust tackling or a combination of both.
Ashley Cole vs Lionel Messi UEFA Champions League 2011/12 semi-final second leg (Barcelona 2-2 Chelsea | Agg: 2-3)
Chelsea recorded a narrow 1-0 win over Barcelona in the first-leg of their 2012 UEFA Champions League semi-final clash courtesy of Didier Drogba’s goal. They still had to face Barcelona at Camp Nou – probably one of the toughest grounds in the world to go to for the visiting side and that too, carrying a slender one-goal margin.
The Blues did have the away goal advantage but to progress, they needed to score against Barcelona in their own backyard and also contain Lionel Messi and his team.
Ashley Cole was assigned the job of keeping the talismanic Argentine under check and he did so with some aplomb. However, there is no denying that Petr Cech was also excellent on the night and Chelsea had luck on their side as Messi missed from the penalty spot.
Barcelona opened the scoring through Sergio Busquets in the 35th minute before John Terry was shown a straight red card for a cynical challenge on Alexis Sanchez just two minutes later. The difficult became impossible for the English side when Andres Iniesta scored the home side’s second goal in the 43rd minute and it looked like a rout was on the cards.
However, Ramires scored a crucial away goal in the first minute of injury time and Barcelona were now forced to score one more to avoid getting knocked out. The Catalan giants won a penalty which Messi crashed against the crossbar and a sucker punch was dealt by Fernando Torres, who rounded off Victor Valdes to send the Blues through to the final.
Messi had a shocking night but it wasn't just because of the penalty miss. Cole, with some help from Ivanovic, was successful in keeping the Argentine in check for the remainder of the game and neutralized the threat possessed by him. Messi had scored 14 goals in the Champions League prior to the two legs against Chelsea. But all he managed to do was hit the bar against the Blues.
Ashley Cole vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Long before Ashley Cole conquered Messi, he did the same with Cristiano Ronaldo. During the Portuguese star’s first stint at Manchester United, he had many encounters with the English full-back. While on some occasions it was Ronaldo who prevailed, there were also occasions when Cole got the better of him. Cole not only tormented Cristiano during that time, he also did so when Portugal faced England.
When Cristiano first burst onto the scene as a pacy winger with a bag full of tricks, he destroyed Cole, who at the time plied his trade at Arsenal. However, the left-back got his revenge after his move to Chelsea, neutralizing the threat of Ronaldo on more occasions than one.
While Ronaldo had the upper hand during his early days, owing to the fact that not many were privy to his style of play, Cole got back by marking him tightly and not allowing him the space to wreck havoc.
Such was the impact that Cole had on Ronaldo that the Portuguese even admitted that the English full-back was one of the toughest defenders he had ever faced. Speaking in an interview with Coach magazine, Ronaldo said:
“Over the years I had some great battles with Ashley Cole, he does not give you a second to breathe. He was such a tenacious player when he was at his peak, quick, tough in the tackle. You knew it would never be an easy game.”
Diego Godin vs Lionel Messi UEFA Champions League 2015/16 quarter-final (Atletico Madrid 2-0 Barcelona | Agg: 3-2)
Atletico Madrid captain Diego Godin has made a name for himself as one of the toughest defenders in the world of football. Atletico Madrid have managed to knock out Barcelona from the Champions League twice in the last decade and it was the Uruguayan who has played a starring role in these victories.
Godin has kept some of the biggest names in the world at bay and it was no surprise that the centre-back was able to keep the charismatic Lionel Messi at bay in the all-important UEFA Champions League quarter-final of 2016.
Barcelona won the first leg 2-1 but Atleti managed to score the crucial away goal. Atletico Madrid opened the scoring in the second-leg through Antoine Griezmann, which put the pressure on Barcelona as they needed an away goal to qualify for the final or to force the game into extra-time.
The onus was on Messi to make things happen but he was denied by Godin's excellent leadership skills coupled with his ability to marshal the defense expertly. The Argentine failed to register a single shot on target and Barcelona were knocked out after Griezmann scored once again, this time from the penalty spot.
The display by Godin was one of his best ever and such was his influence in the game and in keeping the fleet-footed Argentine subdued that Messi failed to have a single touch inside Atleti’s box – an incredible feat – considering that it had happened only once before in games against Los Rojiblancos in the fateful quarter-final clash in 2014.
Diego Godin vs Cristiano Ronaldo La Liga 2014/15 (Atletico Madrid 4-0 Real Madrid)
Lionel Messi is not the only one who has been tormented by Godin, his biggest rival Cristiano Ronaldo also had to suffer at the hands of the Uruguayan.
Godin has been a rock at the back in all of Atleti’s achievements in recent years, which includes being the only team apart from Barcelona or Real Madrid to win La Liga in the last decade. They also reached the final of the UEFA Champions League on two occasions.
One game that stands out is when Atleti humiliated their arch-rivals with a 4-0 win over Real Madrid at home.
Atleti annihilated Carlo Ancelotti’s side in a game which has been termed as one of Cristiano Ronaldo and Real Madrid’s worst in recent years and it was all down to the supreme defending by Godin and his teammates. Tiago, Saul Niguez, Antoine Griezmann and Mario Mandzukic all got onto the scoresheet, while Real Madrid only managed four shots against Atleti – which was equal to the number of goals the home side had scored – with only one of them being on target.
While the strikers earned the plaudits, it was Diego Godin who was the star of the show for Atleti.
The loss proved to be the catalyst of Madrid’s downfall as despite being ahead of Barcelona in the league table on 7th February, the day of this game, they went on to finish second behind their arch-rivals.