The Philippine Star
WORLD CUP SEES LAST OF FOOTBALL’S GREAT STARS
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 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.
Saturday will likely mark the end of an era for the World Cup, a decade in which much of the hype and pretournament talk has been about the best players in the world, the Spanish league rivals which 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 outshined 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 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.
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.
Brazil’s Pele and Argentina’s Diego Maradona became national treasures at home, celebrated for World Cup titles and global superstars. 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 success, 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: four in the Champions League, nine in La Liga and six in the Copa del Rey.