Messi & Ronaldo: The end of an era at the biggest sporting spectacle in the world?
Alas, nothing lasts forever. We always wish something we love and cherish to stay with us forever but seldom does that happen. And if you are a football fan you would always be excited by the prospect of seeing Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi in action. But we could have well seen the last of two of the all-time greats on the biggest stage in the sporting world - The FIFA World Cup.
The fact that both of them didn't dazzle in the tournament makes you feel it could be the end of their journey at the World Cup.
Ronaldo started the tournament with a bang as he scored a hat-trick in the opening game against Spain and scored in the fourth minute in the second group game against Morocco but after that, he was subdued and lacked the spark to ignite his team.
The penalty he missed against Iran in the final group game proved to be crucial as it meant Portugal finished second and were in the tougher half of the draw. He was at not his best against Uruguay in the round of 16 either. To sum it up, 95 minutes of brilliance was followed by a lacklustre 265 mins where he failed to score or assist.
On the other hand, Messi also missed a crucial penalty in their opening game against Iceland which put them in a precarious position ahead of their final group game against Nigeria, by virtue of their defeat against Croatia in the second group game. He redeemed himself by scoring against Nigeria as they qualified for the round of 16.
Against France, he had a couple of assists. One was lucky you could say as his shot deflected off his teammate into the back of the net. Starting Messi as the striker in that game backfired.
Once Aguero came on and Messi was provided with the free role he craves, he delivered a pinpoint cross to Aguero to reduce the deficit to one goal late in the game but it was too late for them to muster a comeback. He didn't light up the tournament as he did four years ago in Brazil where he won the Golden Ball award for the best player of the tournament.
Neither Ronaldo nor Messi had a tournament to remember. They can't be completely held at fault for their team's performances but that's the expectations they have set with their performances over the years that they are expected to deliver everytime they step out on the field. At the end of the day it is a team game and in both matches, the better team won.
A disappointing end if it is indeed the end
First Messi's Argentina who had somehow edged past Nigeria to qualify for the knockout stages got eliminated at the hands of a France. It was undoubtedly the most exciting contest of the tournament so far as the match ended 4-3 in favour of Les Bleus inspired by a 19-year old Kylian Mbappe who scored a brace. Argentina put up a brilliant fight but was left to rue their decisions at the back and not starting Messi in his preferred position.
Just four hours later, Ronaldo's Portugal was left distraught as a brace by Cavani inflicted their first knockout stage defeat in regulation time since the 2010 FIFA World Cup Round of 16. Both Ronaldo and Messi failed to score. As a matter of fact, neither of them have scored in a knockout game at their World Cup career.
Not the way anyone would have wanted the World Cup journey of these superstars to end. Many were hoping for an Argentina vs Portugal quarter-final clash so that we could witness the two of the greats of all time clash against each other once on the biggest stage of them all.
Alas, it wasn't to be. Despite the innumerable number of clashes at club level, they have never clashed at the International level in the World Cup.
A match which was a dream of hundreds of millions of fans around the world never came true and that is what makes the exit of these two behemoths a huge disappointment.
Have we seen the last of these two legends on the biggest stage?
Ronaldo is 33 years old and Messi turned 31 last week. By the time the next World Cup in Qatar commences in four years time, Ronaldo will be 37 and Messi will be just shy of 35.
But with the way they have been playing for their respective clubs you would expect them to keep on playing but will they be physically in the right condition to play. Ronaldo is a freak of nature and without any doubt one of the fittest athletes on the planet. He has also adapted his game in such a way that it doesn't take a toll on his fitness which could help him play as an out and out striker at the next World Cup.
Messi's game also ensures it doesn't take a toll on him physically which could well help him play at the next World Cup as a playmaker considering his vision and passing are as impressive as his finishing and dribbling.
As a football fan, I would love to see them grace the stage one last time. Sigh, just writing it makes me feel emotional. After all, we have been treated to a decade of brilliance by these two living legends. Yes, for some fans, their duopoly over almost every individual award and records over the last decade could be boring but that's what separates these two greats from the rest. These two players are and have always been in a league of their own.
What does not winning the World Cup mean for Ronaldo and Messi's legacy?
Winning the World Cup is the ultimate achievement for any player in any sport. Neither of these two greats has won the ultimate prize. Ronaldo won the European Championship with Portugal in 2016 which was his only success on the international stage.
He made it to the last four of the World Cup once which is his best finish at a World Cup. He finished as a runner-up at Euro 2004 which was followed by a quarter-final and semi-final appearance respectively in the next two editions.
International glory has eluded Messi over and over again which makes one feel he is very unlucky at times. He was a runner-up at the 2014 World Cup. He was a runner-up at the continental Copa America tournament on three occasions - 2007, 2015 and 2016. Leo won the Olympic gold in 2008 and the U-20 World Cup in 2005 but he has not been able to replicate it at the senior level.
Ronaldo and Messi have won it all at club level. Over the last 14 seasons, on 9 occasions these two were part of the team which won the UEFA Champions League, the biggest prize in club football. Ronaldo on five occasions and Messi on four.
They have won the European Golden Shoe - awarded to the top scorer in all the European leagues - on nine occasions in the last 11 years. They have broken records at will.
We can look into all the records they have broken once they call it a day on their career, which their fans hope is not anytime soon. These facts prove that no matter what happens their legacy will not be affected. It will live on forever and ever.