Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo at World Cups: As football’s best two players prepare for a fourth tournament, we compare their records on the biggest stage so far
Lionel Messi vs Cristiano Ronaldo
Throughout their careers, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have battled for superiority, and this month both will compete at their fourth World Cup finals. Neither star has managed to yet get their hands on the most
coveted trophy in football – indeed, they have only appeared in one final between them so far.
Making his debut a year before the tournament, 18-year-old Messi was a bit-part player in Germany, starting just one game – a Group C dead rubber against Holland.
However he showed his potential with a first World Cup goal, an 88th-minute finish to put the gloss on a thumping 6-0 win over Serbia and Montenegro.
Messi was left on the bench for Argentina’s quarter-final against Germany, and could only watch on as the hosts dumped his country out on penalties.
Following his tears in the Euro 2004 final, the then-Manchester United star announced himself on the World Cup stage by helping portugal match their best ever run, to the semi-finals.
Ronaldo only started one of Portugal’s first four games – a 2-0 win over Iran, in which he scored his first World Cup goal – before his starring role in the quarter final victory over England.
He became English public enemy No 1 for his wink after Wayne Rooney was sent off, and a national hero at home for scoring the winning penalty in the shoot-out. However a semi-final loss to France ended Ronaldo’s dream.
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South Africa 2010
Having won the first of four consecutive Ballons D’Or as Barcelona dominated under the reign of Pep Guardiola, Messi was now Argentina’s key man.
He played every minute of the tournament for Diego Maradona’s side, but could not find the net as he went five games without a goal.
Messi’s high point was two assists in a 4-1 Group B win over South Korea. The low point was the 4-0 quarter-final thumping at the hands of Germany.
In 2010, Ronaldo had moved to Real but was yet to win the four Champions Leagues or four Ballons D’Or at the Bernabeu that have made him a modern legend.
In fact, although he played every minute Portugal were in action, Ronaldo had a low-key World Cup, save for a scrambled goal in the 7-0 battering of North Korea.
Those seven goals were the only ones managed by Portugal all tournament, as goalless draws with Ivory Coast and Brazil set up a last 16 tie with Spain. It was more tears for Ronaldo as their Iberian rivals won 1-0 on their way to the title.
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After a domestic season without silverware but personally at the height of his powers, the 2014 World Cup was supposed to belong to Messi.
At first it looked that way as he scored in every group game, including a stunning late winner against Iran. However he did not score in the knock-outs, and did not even provide an assist after the last 16 win over Switzerland.
Messi was below par in the final as Argentina were yet again thwarted by Germany. Despite this he was named player of the tournament, and looked thoroughly miserable as he collected the award.
There is good cause to suggest the 2014 World Cup represents the lowest point of Ronaldo’s entire career. He was a Champions League winner, a Ballon D’Or holder, captain of his country – the pressure was on.
Portugal, and Ronaldo, crumbled. The tone was set with a 4-0 hammering at the hands of Germany, before being held to a 2-2 draw by the USA.
Ronaldo kept up his record of scoring once in every World Cup he played at with an 80th minute winner against Ghana, but it was not enough as Portugal crashed out of Group G