The Ron­aldo-Messi de­bate con­tin­ues

Stabroek News Sunday - - SUNDAY SPORT - By Ras Wadada

Af­ter 10 days of non-stop ac­tion, none of the 29 games con­tested so far have failed to de­liver a goal, serv­ing up 71 to date, and de­spite the many twists and turns, the con­tin­u­ing de­bate as to who is the best foot­baller on Planet Earth takes cen­tre stage along­side the Video As­sis­tant Ref­eree at Rus­sia 2018.

The un­end­ing com­par­i­son be­tween the game’s two best known and most ac­com­plished play­ers con­tin­ues to en­gage the at­ten­tion of the world like no other ri­valry of the ‘Beau­ti­ful Game’ in re­cent times and prior to the kick­off of Rus­sia 2018 ex­pec­ta­tions were high among the in­hab­i­tants of the Uni­verse for both demigods. These two iconic fig­ures of the sport, in the eyes of many, en­tered the 21st Edi­tion of the premier sport­ing spec­ta­cle – the World Cup – with very lit­tle to show, for all they are worth, af­ter com­pet­ing in three con­sec­u­tive tour­na­ments and be­ing in the twi­light of their ca­reers and pos­si­bly the last chance to win the most cov­eted prize in sport, a lot is ex­pected, if not de­liv­ered.

There is no doubt that the hopes of Por­tu­gal and Ar­gentina rest on the shoul­ders of Cristiano ‘CR7’ Ron­aldo and Lionel Messi, re­spec­tively, and while the for­mer has shone bril­liantly so far the lat­ter has failed mis­er­ably to the point of his team be­ing on the verge of elim­i­na­tion. The ob­vi­ous rea­son be­ing that Por­tu­gal is a team led and in­spired by a con­fi­dently fo­cused cap­tain Ron­aldo as op­posed to Ar­gentina which adds up to a pres­sured Messi and 10 splin­tered play­ers un­der the di­rec­tion of a coach who seems to­tally out of con­trol in get­ting things or­ga­nized.

The 33-yearold Ron­aldo is cur­rently brim­ming with con­fi­dence af­ter con­vert­ing all four goals for Por­tu­gal’s 3-3 tie with Spain and 1-0 win over Iran and surely, now, must be ey­ing the ‘Golden Boot’ award as well as feel­ing he could lead his coun­try all the way to an un­prece­dented cham­pi­onship. His team feeds off his con­fi­dence and will to con­quer. Al­ready he has sur­passed his World Cup tally of three be­fore the start of Rus­sia 2018 and has also bro­ken the record for the all-time lead­ing scorer of Europe in In­ter­na­tional football sur­pass­ing, by one, the 84 booted home by the late Hun­gar­ian, Ferenc Puskas, in his 85match ca­reer be­tween 1945 and 1956. CR7’s ex­ploits have also made him a mem­ber of an elite com­pany of play­ers who have scored in four dif­fer­ent World Cup fi­nals, join­ing Pele of Brazil and Ger­many’s Uwe Seeler and MIraslov Klose

Messi, the ‘Golden Ball’ win­ner at 2014, on the con­trary is yet to find the back of the net al­though he squan­dered a golden op­por­tu­nity to open his ac­count from the penalty spot and give Ar­gentina an open­ing win. In­stead, his soft ef­fort was de­nied by the Ice­landic keeper mov­ing to his right and in the sec­ond en­counter against Croa­tia he con­tin­ued to be a mere shadow of the great­ness with which he is usu­ally as­so­ci­ated and the Ar­gen­tines were brushed aside 3-0.

The great­ness and wiz­ardry of Messi, who turns 31 to­day, can­not be de­nied, but bow­ing out of the World Cup at the Group stage with­out a goal or a win would be most em­bar­rass­ing and surely would tilt the odds in fa­vor of his coun­ter­part, as to who is bet­ter. He has proven in the past that he can re­bound with a bang from the brink of be­ing elim­i­nated as was tes­ti­mony in his hat-trick that pro­pelled Ar­gentina to a 17th fi­nals ap­pear­ance when it looked like they would not qual­ify.

There is no com­par­i­son with his ri­val, who is su­pe­rior, when it comes to phys­i­cal and men­tal tough­ness, but given the op­por­tu­ni­ties Ron­aldo gets, in the at­tack­ing third, he can be equally clin­i­cal. Messi would not serve Ar­gentina any good re­ceiv­ing the ball around the cen­ter of the pitch and for­get him com­ing deep to help the de­fense. For him to be ef­fec­tive and best serve the team he must play on the right and re­ceive the ball around or in­side the area where he can be very in­ven­tive and ex­plo­sive.

The Coach and the rest of the Ar­gen­tine cast must play to his strengths if they want to ad­vance or they will be sent pack­ing as early as the 2002 unit, though his­tory seems to be on their side to move on to the sec­ond round. In all four pre­vi­ous meet­ings at the World Cup fi­nals Ar­gentina have pre­vailed over the Su­per Ea­gles, the last one in Brazil ended 3-2 with a dou­ble from Messi though on that oc­ca­sion Nige­ria did go on to the KO stage de­spite the loss. This time it is a ‘must win’ for ei­ther side to have any chance of ad­vanc­ing, as well as Ice­land los­ing to Croa­tia in the fi­nal two matches of Group D, on Tues­day com­ing.

Ron­aldo, whose great­ness in scor­ing goals can­not be ig­nored also, is faced with a less de­mand­ing task in his fi­nal Group B match, since a draw with Iran, to­mor­row, will as­sure Por­tu­gal a place in the sec­ond round and pro­vide the op­por­tu­nity for ‘CR7’ to add to his ag­gre­ga­tion of four so far.

I have no dif­fi­culty in ac­knowl­edg­ing the great­ness and im­pact of both play­ers in their era of the “Beau­ti­ful Game”, but to utter that ei­ther is any­where close to be­ing the GOAT (Great­est Of All Time) is laugh­able if not ridicu­lous.

Cristiano Ron­aldo

Lionel Messi

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