Will Qatar 2022 be the Last Time we see Messi & Ronaldo at a World Cup?

Ismail Ansar

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Will Qatar 2022 be the Last Time we see Messi & Ronaldo at a World Cup?

In episode two of the No Tippy Tappy Football Podcast via William Hill, Sam Allardyce sits down with presenter Natalie Pike and this week’s guest Duncan Ferguson to discuss the impact that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have had on the sport and whether either can win the World Cup in what will likely be their final tournament.

A World Cup win is the only major trophy that neither have won, as Messi notably won the Copa America with Argentina last year, breaking their drought which went all the way back to 1993, while Ronaldo lead his side to glory at Euro 2016 - the first international trophy in Portugal’s history.

Their World Cup Records

The pair will both be playing in their fifth World Cup campaign this year, having previously featured in the 2006, 2010, 2014 and 2018 tournaments. But despite being widely regarded as two of the finest footballers to have ever played the game, the pair have surprisingly poor World Cup records – neither of the pair have ever managed a goal in the knockout stages of a World Cup.

Two-time winners Argentina have performed better than Portugal at the World Cup since the emergence of Messi and Ronaldo – La Albiceleste coming closest in 2014 when they lost in the final to Germany via a Mario Gotze extra-time goal.

Argentina were knocked out in the quarter-finals in 2006, with Messi bagging one goal and one assist in three appearances in the group stage. He followed that showing up with absolutely no goals at the 2010 tournament, however, failing to score a single goal in five appearances as his country were once again knocked out in the quarter-finals.

Messi was much improved four years later in Brazil, scoring four in seven appearances as Argentina agonisingly missed out on the top prize after defeat in the final, with all four goals coming in the group stage again. At the last tournament in 2018, Messi’s Argentina side exited at the round-of-16 stage after defeat against eventual winners France, with Messi leaving the tournament with just one goal to his name.

Cristiano Ronaldo also made his World Cup debut back in 2006, and managed to also bag a goal in his first tournament, scoring against Iran in the group stages. That would be Ronaldo’s only contribution in his six appearances. as his side made it all the way to the semi-finals before being beaten by France.

Four years later, and Ronaldo again only managed to score once in the tournament, with a goal against North Korea his only one in four appearances as Portugal exited at the round of 16. It would be more of the same again in 2014, with Ronaldo scoring just one goal as his country embarrassingly exited at the group stage. His best World Cup showing was in 2018, when he finished the tournament with four goals despite Portugal once again exiting at the round of 16.

Who Has Had A Better International Career?

Despite all their success at club level, Messi and Ronaldo have not had similar levels of success with their countries. So, who out of the two has been better at international level is a tough question to answer.

The pair have, however, as expected, been prolific at international level, with Ronaldo currently the highest-scoring men’s international footballer of all time – the Portuguese forward has 117 goals in 191 appearances for his country. Meanwhile, Messi is third in the all-time men’s goalscorer list, with 90 goals in 164 appearances for Argentina. So Ronaldo is ahead of Messi internationally in terms of goals. But how about in terms of performances in tournaments?

Both Messi and Ronaldo have failed to win football’s biggest prize with their countries, the World Cup. And the Qatar-hosted tournament that starts in just a few weeks represents the last chance ever for one of the two to win it, considering the fact that both men are nearing their 40s.

In his four World Cups for Portugal, Ronaldo has seen 4th, 11th, 18th and 13th place finishes, with Portugal’s best finish being a semi-final place in 2006, since exiting at either the group stage or the round-of-16 otherwise.

Messi has fared slightly better with Argentina, with his country finishing in 6th, 5th, 2nd and 16th in the four World Cups he has played in. In terms of World Cup performances, Messi is the victor in this category.

Another area where Messi excels over Ronaldo in is goals in the major tournaments – while Ronaldo has more international goals, Messi has more in the tournaments that matter. In 19 World Cup appearances, Messi has six goals and five assists (11 G/A), and in 34 Copa America appearances, the Argentine has 13 goals and 17 assists (30 G/A).

Ronaldo lags slightly behind Messi in this metric, with seven goals and two assists (9 G/A) in 17 World Cup appearances, and 14 goals and nine assists (23 G/A) in European Championship matches.

And the pair have both picked up two trophies at international level – Ronaldo’s Portugal won Euro 2016 and also the inaugural Nations League in 2019. Messi won the 2021 Copa America with his country before also winning Finalissima in 2022, a one-off match between the winners of the Copa America and the Euros.

Both have won the major trophy available in their continent, but in terms of international honours, we would say that Ronaldo edges it due to the Nations League being more challenging than a one-off match like Finalissima.

So it is difficult to separate who is best out of the two at international level – but for us, due to having more goals and silverware with a bit more prestige, we would say that Ronaldo has so far had the better international career.

Can Either Of Them Inspire Their Country To Glory?

The 2022 World Cup is the last chance for either of these players to win the one trophy that has eluded them both in their long and illustrious careers, and so they will surely give it all they have got when the tournament kicks off in just a couple of weeks.

Messi is in great form at club level and will surely carry that form into the tournament, where Argentina face Saudi Arabia, Mexico and Poland in the group stages – not exactly the easiest of opponents, but you would expect La Albiceleste to progress to the knockout stages comfortably. They made the final in 2014 and the quarter-finals at the two tournaments prior, so it’s likely that we will see Argentina make a run deep into the latter stages of the tournament.

Portugal face slightly trickier opponents in their group, with Uruguay, Ghana and South Korea all potential banana skins for Fernando Santos’ side. But despite not having the best squad at the tournament, Portugal do still possess some talented players and so should make it out of their group. Ronaldo is not in great form at club level though, which is something he will have to rectify if he wants any chance of winning in Qatar.

Ultimately, it is impossible to tell who will win, with so many different factors all playing a part in determining who will lift the World Cup come December. But with this being their last chance at this trophy, we can surely expect to see both Messi and Ronaldo in the form of their lives at this tournament.

Will We Ever Get A Duo This Good Again In The Same Era?

Probably not. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will both go down as, without a doubt, in the top 10 footballers to have ever played the game, and it is very unlikely that we will see two players who are both that good playing at the same time ever again.

Messi and Ronaldo were regularly scoring 40+ goals every season and winning Ballon d’Or after Ballon d’Or, alongside multiple pieces of silverware with their clubs. We will not see anything like that ever again – they were both once-in-a-generation footballers. The likes of Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland are world-class footballers and will dominate the headlines for years to come, but not on the level as Messi and Ronaldo did – they both have set the bar unfathomably high, and we will never see anything like the pair ever again.

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