By Sarafina Napoleon
Sarafina Napoleon is from Nigeria and is a first-year graduate student in Sport Administration at BGSU. As a journalist for 9 years, she brings a wealth of experience and insight to the Maxwell Media Watch.
November 4, 2022
The 2022 Winter World Cup will be Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo’s most significant World Cup competition, sixteen years after their 2006 debut in Germany. Both players are perhaps the greatest to have embellished the game of soccer, and it is challenging to comprehend this could be their final appearance at the World Cup.
They revolutionized the sport so drastically that calling them the greatest may not do them justice. There are some players you see on the field, and you know it was a pleasure to be alive during their era. Messi and Ronaldo were both born to play soccer; some consider Messi a product of talent, while others believe Ronaldo to be a product of hard work. Both players reshaped soccer, profoundly impacted a generation, broke records, and sparked the greatest soccer rivalry in history. There was an apparent rivalry at every level, from the club to the national team to individual awards.
For a decade, Messi and Ronaldo dominated all individual soccer awards, including the Ballon d’Or. At one point, it appeared that no one would ever challenge them. Every soccer fan sat back, witnessed, and relished every moment as they tested each other. At the same time, the rivalry transformed them into monsters of the sport, scoring a staggering number of goals. We witnessed discussions, comparisons, and statistical analysis week after week to prove one was superior to the other. Friends were pitted against friends, brothers against brothers, for one reason: Who is the better player?
The rivalry between these two grew beyond the pitch and manifested in corporate deals and endorsements. It amplified the rivalry between the two most prestigious sportswear brands in the world; Adidas and Nike. Since 2003, Nike has sponsored Ronaldo. In 2016, he became the third athlete in the brand’s history to receive a lifetime contract. On the other hand, Messi has been associated with Nike’s main rival, Adidas, since 2006 and signed a lifetime contract with the company in 2017, just like Ronaldo.
Except for one trophy considered the “holy grail” (world cup trophy) in elite soccer, they have nearly amassed everything there is to win in elite soccer. Every soccer player’s ultimate goal is to win the world cup, not just compete. The crescendo of competitive soccer is the World Cup. It is comparable to the European soccer club version of the Champions League. Despite their immense talent, Messi and Ronaldo have failed to help their nations win the trophy. The failure to win the world cup, according to some schools of thought, mars their illustrious careers. For others, winning the World Cup would solidify their place as the greatest of all time.
Diego Armando Maradona led the La Albiceleste to victory with the contentious “Hand of God” goal 36 years ago, which marked the last time Argentina won the World Cup. Under the leadership of Lionel Messi, there have been near misses. At the 2014 World Cup, the team’s talisman guided them to the Finals, where they fell to Germany on an extra-time goal from substitute Mario Gotze. The team also advanced to the World Cup quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010 but was eliminated in the round of 16 in 2018.
Lionel Messi finally ended his international trophy drought at an elite level in 2021 when Argentina won the Copa America. The Argentine plays like a newborn and is in scintillating form as the World Cup approaches. In contrast to his struggles the previous year, Messi has been outstanding for his club, PSG, this season, scoring 11 goals in 16 appearances.
Cristiano Ronaldo, on the other hand, is a serial winner. He played a crucial role in helping the Portuguese team win the 2016 Euros, the nation’s first victory in a major competition. However, Portugal has never won the World Cup; their best showing was third in 1966. They were eliminated in round 16 in 2018 and could not progress past the group stage at the 2014 World Cup. It is also interesting to note that Portugal qualified for the Winter World Cup via playoffs after being gobsmacked at home by Serbia, who topped the group. At the club level, Cristiano Ronaldo has struggled ever since his second return to Manchester United. Under the new management of Erik Ten Hag, the Portuguese have been forced to accept a minor role. He could leave the team in January when the transfer window opens.
Given their ages, both players enter the Winter World Cup, aware of the significance of winning a trophy for their nation in 2022. They might not have another chance to redeem themselves if they don’t win the trophy in Qatar because the next World Cup is taking place in 2026. By that time, Messi and Ronaldo will be 39 and 41, respectively.
We live in an uncertain world, and only a soothsayer can predict what will happen in four years. Still, one thing is sure: Messi and Ronaldo will be in Qatar in a couple of weeks. Will either player be inspired to greatness by the desire to win the World Cup, or will the World Cup heartbreak continue?
Who will rule supreme on December 18, 2022?