This World Cup was worth the wait, after all, it has been full of unexpected surprises. However, the debate that had to be settled this year was if either Cristiano Ronaldo or Messi would obtain the “G.O.A.T.” title. They both arrived in the tournament as favorites since they carried their national teams to glory, sadly it all ended in disappointment. This is my view as to why it all ended the way it did for these two great players …
MESSI AGAINST THE WORLD AND A “BROKEN TEAM” FROM THE START
It’s no secret that he has been under close supervision since his appearance at the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Since day one they compared him to Maradona, there were others prior to him but the similarities in their playing style made them inseparable. The successful growth over the years at club level made them a clear candidate to surpass Maradona’s legacy, but that success would end up affecting him in the long run. There was no doubt that in Barcelona he was a player that couldn’t be stopped, he would break any record he wanted and sometimes embarrass entire teams on his own. The story changes in the international stage, always failing to win silverware and also not being able to be the player the world sees season after season in the club level. The inconsistency has landed him in understandable criticism, however, not everything is entirely his fault.
Argentina has been carrying structural problems since the qualifying stages for the tournament. Having lost the final against Germany four years ago the federation failed to rebuild the team ahead of what could be Messi’s last international tournament. In the space of three years, they lost 2 finals with the same players on their roster, sadly not even those defeats were enough to make the changes the team needed. In the qualifying process, they changed managers about three times due to bad results. It could be said that Martino, Bauza or Sampaoli were not able to call the shots in the dressing room because all of them somehow kept calling the usual names to the national team. In my opinion, they didn’t deserve to be in the tournament. They failed to qualify in the top positions and only made it because they won the last qualifying game over Ecuador. What followed were constant inconsistencies in the line-ups and a humiliating defeat against Spain in a friendly match prior to the World Cup.
Unfortunately, things didn’t change when the tournament began and it was all the same. Iceland was their first rival and against all the odds they managed to tie with Argentina. In paper, it was supposed to be an easy win since Iceland was making their first appearance ever in the tournament. The result came as a surprise and cast doubts with both the press and the dressing room because Croatia and Nigeria would be their next opponents. Ironically they would be the ones that manage to expose how broken the team really was. Croatia will complete Iceland’s damage to Argentina with a consistent 3-0 win with a brilliant collective display. In the final game of the group stage, Nigeria would fail to capitalize on Argentina’s struggles. The team was broken thanks to the defeat by Croatia, both manager and players had decided to do make their own decisions. Messi became the leader and opened the road towards a victory thanks to a last-minute goal by Marcos Rojo and a little help from Croatia.
CRISTIANO RONALDO ON HIS OWN
I could write this part by saying that he is completely the opposite of Messi but let’s dig in in a little. He became the player everyone knows trough dedication and hard work. The credit has to go to Manchester United and Sir Alex Ferguson since they were the ones that turned him into the goal-scoring machine he became at Real Madrid. It’s not easy to become the clubs all-time top goal scorer in the space of four seasons. In the process, he managed to carry his national team to a European Championship despite not playing in the Final game and prior to the World cup he guided Real Madrid to an impressive back-to-back Champions League wins for 3 straight seasons. Hypothetically, it’s clear that Ronaldo arrived in Russia with a better momentum but everyone knew how he could be neutralized in the national team. The Group Stage of the tournament was all about Ronaldo, becoming the tournaments top goal scorer before Harry Kane took over. An impressive tie against Spain in the opening game with 3 of his goals and another against Morocco in the second game seemed to give him an advantage over Messi. However, in the game against Iran, he failed to have the same impact and Portugal struggled to rescue a tie against them. Regardless of the difficulties, Portugal advanced thanks to Ronaldo’s constant involvement with the team.
THE BLUE WAVE
It was in the knock out stages were both Messi and Ronaldo would fail to shine once again. Argentina had the most difficult rival, France due to their impressive speed and talented starting 11. Portugal seemed to have a better fighting chance but they were facing a team with a perfect record, Uruguay with no goals allowed and no yellow cards in 3 games. France and Uruguay were both solid and managed to neutralize Ronaldo and Messi respectively. In Argentina’s game it was all but a disaster waiting to happen, the team was unrecognizable and practically still in recovery mode from the game against Nigeria. The French dominated from start to finish with a solid Kante in midfield and a brilliant display from Mbapee. Argentina managed to level the game but besides that their lines were miles away from each other. Everyone seemed to be playing on their own instead of being a team. Messi never came in touch with the ball and displayed frustration since France took the lead. The lack of leadership was noticeable and he was far from the player he is at Barcelona. In the end Frances collective effort neutralized Argentina with no little than 3 touches and Messi was nowhere to be found.
Uruguay implemented their famous “Garra Charrua” and like France held Portugal and Ronaldo in their own half. “El Maestro” Tabarez showed his experience by holding a high-pressure system and figured out Portugal’s secret. Cristiano Ronaldo was unable to influence his teammates since there was no space for Portugal’s lines to connect. They also covered any possibility for him to shoot from distance, which was another weapon that made Ronaldo dangerous in the group stage. It would take two goals from Cavani to send the European Champions back home and therefore end the G.O.A.T. debate once and for all.
In the end, Uruguay and France showed the world that there is no “I” in a team and regardless of how good of a player you can be you will not be able to succeed on your own. Its as if both Messi and Ronaldo both complemented each other, if one makes it far in tournaments then its natural for the other to do the same. Coincidence? Unlikely but I guess if something is meant to be then it will eventually happen, for now, let’s just enjoy their football at club level and forget the debate.