Messi closes the door on The Greatest debate
The glee on Cristiano Ronaldo’s face when he scored his brace against Hungary said it all. His Euro 2016 campaign had just clicked into gear.
After enduring more than 180 minutes of frustration in the games against Iceland and Austria, and the 50 opening minutes of the Hungary match, the Portuguese captain finally found the back of the net. And with such style, too.
His classy back-heel, which brought the teams to 2-2, will surely be entered into the goal of the tournament nomination box.
His next goal, though less impressive, was actually more crucial. With Portugal trailing 2-3 and on their way out of the competition, Ronaldo rose above Hungary’s defence and powered home one of those classic Ronaldo headers.
A relieved Portugal coach Fernando Santos was effusive about how, like so many times before, Ronaldo had taken personal responsibility for rescuing the national side.
“A forward like Cristiano without goals feels like he has not had anything to eat,” he said after the game.
But it is exactly this over-reliance on one man digging deep into his mental and physical reserves that will hamper Portugal’s progress in this competition. Despite having talented players and domestic teams that perform relatively well in European club competition, Portugal have been underwhelming in recent editions of the Euro and World Cups. It is also this factor that stunts Ronaldo’s quest for immortality.
Across the ocean, Lionel Messi, Ronaldo’s rival for the title of “best footballer on the planet”, has been having a much jollier time. Arriving in the US with a rib injury, he played no part in Argentina’s 2-1 first match victory over Chile.
In the second game against Panama, he came on as a second-half substitute, scoring a hat-trick in the half-hour he was on the field. From there he has been unstoppable, slotting in crucial goals and delivering valuable assists for his team-mates.
Messi’s five goals have made him the tournament’s second top goal-scorer so far. In addition, he has the highest assists (10) and leads the board in shots on target. His hat-trick in the 4-0 drubbing of the US in the semifinal also crowned his tournament by surpassing Argentine great Gabriel Batistuta’s 55goal haul to become the country’s highest netter. He put a cherry on top by delivering a free-kick from heaven.
Messi will most likely increase his goal tally tomorrow and go on to lift the cup. In the unlikely event that Argentina is denied glory by Chile, Messi will still be able to celebrate personal milestones. The biggest of these is that the four-times Ballon d’Or winner is no longer spoken about in comparison to his arch-rival.
With at least five years and two World Cups left in him, Messi still stands a chance of shattering more records and overshadowing legends Pele and Maradona.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, will have to be content with containing his rivalry with Messi to La Liga, where he does at least have top quality surroundings to make him shine.
At 31, he probably has one World Cup and one more Euro Cup left in him. He will try to use these to sustain the debate over who the greatest player in the world is – a debate that much of the footballing world has closed.
His rival is now in competition with the legends of the last millennium.
CONTENDER Cristiano Ronaldo is battling to shine at Euro 2016
THE GREATEST? Argentina’s Lionel Messi is regarded as the best