World Cup – Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi: the last dance, the last chance in Qatar

Wanting too much to oppose them, we almost forgot to bring them together. Among the many common points that unite Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, a cultural complicity. In Portugal, we sing fado. In Argentina, we dance the tango. The music of melancholy, the dance of sadness. Melancholy, sadness: two qualifiers that perfectly symbolize the post-World Cup that awaits us.

Because, for them, it’s a last dance. If he has not yet admitted it publicly, Cristiano Ronaldo (37) knows that the clock is ticking even if he has always wanted to fight against these hands which are moving irretrievably. His club situation on the eve of his fifth World Cup reinforces a little more the feeling of a glorious past but of a very uncertain future. Football has changed, regardless of whether CR7 continues to score. In Portugal, we even dare to say now that the Seleção could play better without him, a crime of lèse-majesté which injured him.

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“But which coach will accept CR7 after this outing?”

He affirmed it openly, as if to free himself from a weight. At 35, Lionel Messi is playing his last World Cup, potentially his last competition with an Albiceleste which will have made him live with misery. But all that was before. Since 2021 and this national liberation of the Copa America, he is no longer the same man, no longer the same player, no longer quite the same symbol. His international CV is not yet perfect but he will at least never be without a major title again. And, unlike his rival, a whole country is pushing behind him as his troops arrive in Qatar undefeated for 36 matches.

Records in sight, of course

2022 will therefore be the end of an adventure that began in 2006. At the time, Zinédine Zidane, Ronaldo and Luis Figo were playing in their last World Cup. Sign of fate, it was the first of a nascent duopoly. At the time, the young wisp Ronaldo and the timid soloist Messi were promises. They have become obvious with each edition.

Lionel Messi at the 2006 World Cup

Credit: Getty Images

When they start the competition, the two men will join the very closed circle of record holders for participation in the World Cup. With them, some very beautiful people: Antonio Carbajal (Mexico), Lothar Matthäus (Germany), Gianluigi Buffon (Italy) and Rafael Marquez (Mexico). Four men, two goalkeepers, two defenders. In this list, Messi and Ronaldo denote: at their age, in their position, we are often overtaken by younger, stronger, more modern. Not them.

This unprecedented edition in Qatar could even inflate their respective record tables a little more. If he reaches the final, Lionel Messi can become the player with the most World Cup appearances in history, overtaking Lothar Matthäus (25). If he scores, Cristiano Ronaldo would become the first player to score in five editions, notably overtaking a certain Pelé. The two can also become, ultimately quite logical, the player with the greatest time difference between the first and the last goal in the World Cup (16 years between 2006 and 2022).

A matter of inheritance

Records in shambles, certainly, but always this vacuum: they know it, their place in the great history is assured but will always remain dependent on this absence of supreme title. Can they claim to be the greatest without winning the greatest? The question exists, the answers vary. One certainty: if Pelé is called the King, if Maradona has marked his generation so much, if Zidane or Ronaldo enter the discussion, they have all hung the ultimate trophy. Counter-examples exist, fortunately, but the two men would probably prefer not to complete this list. Basically, this last dance looks like a last chance.

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