The 2022 World Cup in Qatar could serve as the perfect climax for one of football’s most intense and never ending debates….
Written by Olugbenga Olonade
After what seemed like a never ending struggle for international success, the battle of the GOATs is now tied at two senior international titles apiece. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have enjoyed so much dominance throughout their careers and despite dropping so many top match winning performances and a host of shattered individual records for club and country over the years, the first international title did not come along for either of them until 2016.
Many would be forgiven to think that the Portuguese superstar and Argentine great would never be able to achieve any success internationally especially after coming so close on multiple occasions. Ronaldo’s Portugal lost narrowly to Greece in the final of Euro 2004, then went on to lose a third place playoff to Germany in the 2006 World Cup after losing to a Zinedine Zidane inspired France team in the semi final game. Ronaldo would go on to lose again in the semi final of the European Championships in 2012, this time against eventual winners, Spain before hitting jackpot in the 2016 edition of the European tourney, defeating hosts, France in the final, an achievement that many considered may have given Ronaldo the edge over Lionel Messi in the discussion for the greatest footballer of all time.
Despite taking almost a decade and half of professional football to achieve his first success with his national team, it did not take long before Ronaldo added another international title to his collection. In 2019, the ex-Real Madrid man helped his country to UEFA Nations League triumph, defeating the Netherlands 1-0 in the final and further sealing his claim to the imaginary crown for the greatest footballer of all time.
The scale has however been been brought back to balance since 2019 as Lionel Messi has shown in the past two years that he won’t be sitting back without having a say, fighting back to win two international titles in the last three years. The first, a Copa America win in 2021 which served as a perfect reward for the Rosario born forward following many years of disappointments having lost three finals; losing twice on penalties to Chile in 2015 and 2016 in addition to a 3-0 loss to Brazil in 2007. Messi also lost the 2014 FIFA World Cup final to Germany, a game in which a win would have put the diminutive Argentine star heads and shoulders above any footballer that has ever step foot on a football pitch.
Messi’s latest conquest of the CONMEBOL-UEFA Cup of Champions now brings him level with Cristiano Ronaldo in terms of international titles. The “Finalissima” (Italian for ‘grand final’) as many prefer to call it is labelled by some, mostly Cristiano Ronaldo supporters, as a glorified friendly game because it only contested by two teams, albeit the champions of South America and Europe and should not really be considered as an official international title but Lionel Messi and his supporters will not care. Afterall, the UEFA Nations League that was won by Cristiano Ronaldo just three years earlier was born of out the need to “replace friendly matches with meaningful international games” so it could be argued that the UEFA Nations League and the Finalissima are two peas of the same pod.
The debate about who could be the greatest of all time between the two is now finely poised as we approach what could potentially be the final tournament involving both football greats. The 2022 FIFA World Cup that will take place in Qatar later this year is expected to be fiercely contested between both players with Lionel Messi aiming to win it for the Albiceleste for the third time – a first since 1986 -and Ronaldo looking to bring it home to Portugal for the first time in their history. Whoever achieves success at the tournament will definitely write his name in the sands of time and ultimately seal his place as the greatest footballer that the sport has witnessed.
But of course, it won’t be an easy ride for any of them. Several obstacles lie ahead. Countries like Brazil, Germany, France, Spain and England also have eyes on football’s biggest prize, the World Cup while the new generation of football stars like Vinicius Jr., Kylian Mbappe, Pedri and Mason Mount will be looking to show the world that it’s time to do away with the old guard and embrace the new order. All of that notwithstanding, the eyes of the entire world will still be placed firmly on what would likely be the last dance between two of the greatest footballers in the history of the sport.
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