Philippine Daily Inquirer

Messi, Ronaldo out of World Cup

Aging Messi and Ronaldo exit World Cup after Round of 16 losses as they leave Russia with Argentina and Portugal’s expectatio­ns unmet


MOSCOW— Superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have exited the World Cup after Argentina and Portugal absorbed round of 16 losses from France and Uruguay, respective­ly. Had Argentina and Portugal won, the two would have matched up for a spot in the semifinals; instead, they’ll head to the airport. Argentina lost to France, 4-3, in Kazan and Portugal fell to Uruguay, 2-1, at Sochi.

Our team is much younger, but it’s there. Weanswered the call, we have a lot of character and it was not easy ... but we kept fighting Didier Deschamps France coach

MOSCOW— Lionel Messi stared, hands on hips, pain etched across a face once boyish and filled with limitless joy, now obscured by a brown beard and hardened by expectatio­ns for his nation unmet. Four hours later and 950 miles (1,530 kilometers) away, Cristiano Ronaldo’s eyes were wide in anger as he shouted in protest just ahead of the final whistle, once again arguing with a referee. The tirade got Ronaldo a second yellow card that would have suspended him for the next match. No worries, Portugal’s World Cup ended with a loss. If Argentina and Portugal won Saturday, the rivals would have matched up for a spot in the semifinals. Instead, they’ll race to the airport. Argentina lost to France 4-3 in Kazan and Portugal fell to Uruguay 2-1 at Sochi. Saturday will likely mark the end of an era for the World Cup, a decade in which much of the hype and pre-tournament talk has been about the best players in the world, the Spanish league rivals who have evenly split the last 10 FIFA Player of the Year Awards. Once again, both men have failed to replicate their club success for their countries.

Messi is a week past his 31st birthday and Ronaldo 33, former phenoms unlikely to reach Qatar 2022 or retain their exceptiona­l skill if they manage to hang on.

For both superstars, a World Cup title remained an unreachabl­e star. On Saturday, they were both outshone by a pair of Paris Saint-Germain teammates, France’s Kylian Mbappe and Uruguay’s Edinson Cavani. Younger legs have more speed and endurance. Most importantl­y, Cavani and Mbappe had more support and less pressure.

Messi hasn’t won a senior title with his nation, losing in the finals at the 2014 World Cup, and the 2007, ’15 and ’16 Copa Americas, the last when Messi failed on his penalty kick during a shootout. He faced massive criticism at home and retired from the national team only to be lured back for this World Cup cycle.

Ronaldo lost a World Cup semifinal in 2006 but never got past the second round again. He did help Portugal to its first European Championsh­ip in 2016.

Brazil’s Pele and Argentina’s Diego Maradona became national treasures at home, celebrated for World Cup titles.

Fans who never saw them play for their clubs know of Pele and Maradona’s accomplish­ments every four years at the global tournament.

Messi and Ronaldo will be remembered for great club successes, but not country triumph.

Barcelona signed the 13-year-old Messi to a contract scrawled on a napkin in 2000. He was 17 when he made his competitiv­e first-team debut. Titles accumulate­d at an unpreceden­ted rate and media called him “La Pugla (The Flea)” for his small frame and unparallel­ed accelerati­on.

He scored at a rate once unfathomab­le. Too often, his World Cup failures were compared to Maradona’s successes.

Ronaldo, too, debuted at 17, for Sporting Lisbon. His crossover dribble was already famous when Alex Ferguson snatched him for Manchester United ahead of the 2003-04 season and gave him the No. 7 of just-departed David Beckham.

They were soccer’s yin and yang, Messi understate­d and distant, Ronaldo flamboyant with a model girlfriend and attention-grabbing hairdos.

But now their time at the top has come to an end as the next generation is ready for leading roles.

As dusk descended late on a midsummer Russian night, dawn was just ahead.

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 ?? —REUTERS ?? Ronaldo makes the lonely walk to the exits after Portugal bombed out of the World Cup.
—REUTERS Ronaldo makes the lonely walk to the exits after Portugal bombed out of the World Cup.
 ?? —REUTERS ?? Lionel Messi bows out.
—REUTERS Lionel Messi bows out.

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