FIFA World Cup 2022: The Swansong of Icons – Messi, Ronaldo & Last Chance Saloon
FIFA World Cup 2022: Lionel Messi & Cristiano Ronaldo conquered the world with their feet, except winning the WC.
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The conclusion of World War II was marked by a steep rise in fertility rates – often referred to as the ‘baby boom.’ Those born between 1946-1964 are, according to their demographic cohort, hence known as the ‘baby boomers.’
Effectively, if you are in your twenties now, your grandparents were baby boomers. If they were football fans, chances are huge that you have heard why the ‘baby boomers’ generation was a blessed one, as they witnessed a football icon in his prime.
Edson Arantes do Nascimento, whom we know as Pele, was a phenomenon nonpareil, escaping the clutches of poverty to help Brazil win three World Cup titles.
The baby boomers were followed by ‘Generation X,’ and from a footballing perspective, they were equally as blessed. During their era, a diminutive Argentine called Diego Armando Maradona waved his wand of magic to mesmerise both opposition’s defences and the fans.
The subsequent couple of generations – the ‘Millennials’ and ‘Gen Z,’ can proudly claim that they have been twice as blessed, for they have been lucky enough to witness not one, but two football icons during their peak – Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
When Maradona retired, the general assumption was that the sport will never be graced by anyone of his, or Pele’s stature. However, with change being the only constant in sport and life, we have witnessed how Messi and Ronaldo, against all odds, conquered the world, and are still ruling today, in all their glory and grandeur.
Yet, if the greatness of an athlete is measured by the number of trophies won, both Messi and Ronaldo fall short of their predecessors in the elite club, specifically for the lack of one trophy – the World Cup.
The Missing Piece of the Iconic Jigsaw
Back in the 2006 World Cup, the football fraternity witnessed an 18-year-old teenager from Rosario, always sporting a smile as enchanting as his footwork, make light work of players much more experienced than him. In that same competition, a 21-year-old rising star from Madeira also shot to fame by outplaying many big names.
Their characteristic traits were contrasting – one had the tranquillity of an ocean’s bed, whilst the other was as feisty as the waves during a high tide. Yet, they were connected by the ‘wonderkid’ tag.
16 years down the line, the football analysts will be content with their presumption, with both Messi and Ronaldo doing justice to the tag. Yet, when they will step into Qatar for the 2022 World Cup, it will not be to add another feather to their cap, but to unlock a new realm of greatness – something that can turn out to be a universal differentiator.
Messi & Ronaldo in the World Cups – Story So Far
Messi was a bit-part contributor in the Argentina team in 2006, but certainly did enough to make the headlines, when he scored a goal and gave an assist against Serbia and Montenegro, despite coming on as a substitute in the 75th minute. That, however, was the highlight of his campaign.
Ronaldo, on the contrary, was a regular feature in the Portugal side, and also had a crucial role to play in the team’s progress to the semi-finals, as he scored the winning penalty against England in the quarter-final.
By 2010, both players were firmly established as the best in the world, and playing in the same league, the biggest accolades were being shared to and fro between the duo. Yet, despite being at the peak of their powers, Messi and Ronaldo had an underwhelming campaign in South Africa.
The 2014 World Cup was, by far, Messi’s best display in this competition. He did all he possibly could – took his team to the final and won the Golden Ball. However, while he could not score in the final, Germany did, and subsequently won the trophy.
The last instalment of the spectacle saw Ronaldo producing a nearly-flawless show, but once again, it was not good enough to be the world champions. Both Portugal and Argentina were eliminated in the group stage.
Could the Wait Finally End for Either?
It has been 36 years since Argentina last won this tournament, and 66 years since Portugal came anywhere close to a World Cup triumph. The obvious question here is – despite the greatness of Messi and Ronaldo, how are their teams a prime contenders this time around?
Thankfully for the legends, and their fans, both Argentina and Portugal have the squads to support the icons this time around.
Coming into this competition, Argentina are the most in-form team, having remained unbeaten in all of their last 36 matches. In fact, if Messi’s side can win their first couple of matches in Qatar, they will create a new world record for the longest unbeaten streak.
The current crop of players is willing to travel that extra mile, cross that extra hurdle, put in that extra yard for the Paris Saint-Germain forward, and it was all but discernible in their title-winning performance in the Copa America 2020.
Rodrigo De Paul, a tireless midfield workhorse who had a role to play in Argentina’s transformation, proudly claimed in an interview with FIFA.com “When he becomes your captain, you’d go to war for him if he asked you to. The key thing is that everyone knows what they’re expected to do, nobody is trying to hog the headlines. The only untouchable one is Leo.”
Portugal’s story is slightly different. Ronaldo’s team has not been as consistent and dominant as Messi’s, but A Selecao have assembled what could arguably be considered as their greatest ever World Cup squad, boasting of a plethora of renowned talent across all departments – Ruben Dias in defence, Bruno Fernandes in midfield, Bernando Silva and Rafael Leao in attack.
Echoing De Paul’s sentiment for Messi, Fernandes has pledged to win the World Cup for their inspirational leader, Ronaldo.
Throughout their careers, the two stars have defied limits to be the solitary flag-bearers of their nations. For years, Messi has been synonymous with Argentina, just like how Ronaldo has been synonymous with Portugal.
Now, as we prepare to witness the swansong of the legends, it is time to turn the tables, as the onus is on the teammates now to give their icons a worthy farewell. Qatar is being adorned for a riveting, emotional and awe-inspiring concluding act – if only the actors can play their part to perfection, the protagonist of the play will be finally caparisoned.
Messi awaits. Ronaldo awaits. And so does two generations.
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