When Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi took the field at the 2006 World Cup, aged 21 and 18 years old respectively, the world could never have imagined that the duo’s battle to be the best player in the world would only just be drawing to a close 16 years later. The world could never have imagined that the duo’s battle to be the best player in the world would only just be drawing to a close 16 years later.
Messi and Ronaldo are both set to make their final appearances on the biggest stage of them all in Qatar, while their futures in European club football also look to be coming to an end, with Phil Neville eager to bring Messi to Inter Miami – another statement that we wouldn’t have expected to hear 16 years ago – and Ronaldo enduring what looks to be a very rocky end to his relationship with Manchester United. Messi and Ronaldo are both set to make their final bows in Qatar, while Ronaldo
Messi and Ronaldo will become the fourth and sixth* different players to make an appearance in five separate World Cups (*Andrés Guardado of Mexico will likely become the fifth). Here is a look at how Messi’s and Ronaldo’s World Cup adventures have unfolded thus far.
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2006 World Cup (Germany)
Lionel Messi had only made 35 senior appearances for Barcelona prior to the summer of 2006, and he had only seven caps for his country. However, this did not stop him from lighting up Gelsenkirchen when he made his World Cup debut for Argentina against Serbia and Montenegro in Argentina’s second group game. Messi scored a hat trick in that game, and it was the highlight of Argentina’s tournament.
Messi provided an assist to Hernán Crespo only minutes after coming in as a substitute in the 75th minute to put Argentina up 4-0. Messi then made it 6-0 himself in the closing seconds, which culminated in La Albiceleste’s joint-biggest-ever triumph at a World Cup match. To this day, he is the only player in the history of the World Cup to have achieved the feat of scoring and assisting in the same World Cup match while still a youngster.
The attacker was given the opportunity to start on his 19th birthday in the match between Argentina and the Netherlands, which ended in a goalless draw. He then came off the bench for a little over 30 minutes in his country’s 2-1 victory over Mexico in the round of 16.
Messi was not used by José Pékerman in Argentina’s quarterfinal match against Germany, which resulted in Argentina’s elimination from the competition on penalties. Messi had a good start to his World Cup experience, but with just 121 minutes of game time under his belt, he is probably itching to go back out there.
Messi and Ronaldo face off during the 2006 World Cup
However, before the 2006 World Cup, there were considerably larger expectations placed upon Cristiano Ronaldo. He was heading to Germany as a selection inside the PFA Premier League Team of the Year as a result of his 15 league goal involvements in the 2005-06 season. This led to higher expectations (nine goals, six assists). Wayne Rooney, a teammate of his at Manchester United, was the only player in the Premier League who was 21 or younger and had a stronger offensive output than that during that season (25 – 16 goals, nine assists).
Ronaldo had already created a name for himself on the international stage by the time he qualified for the 2006 finals in Germany, having played 32 times for Portugal and scoring 11 goals during that time. Seven of those goals were scored during qualifying for the tournament.
For Ronaldo’s sake, it is unfortunate that he is more known for his actions off the ball in 2006 than for the role he played in the incident that led to Wayne Rooney’s red card for England in the quarterfinal match against Portugal. However, he did score his first-ever goal in a World Cup match from the penalty spot on Match Day 2 against Iran. He also scored the pivotal penalty shot in the last-eight tie with England, which was finally determined by a penalty shootout.
Os Navegadores would go on to lose to France in the semi-finals by a score of 1-0, and Ronaldo would end the night with four shots that were all wasted. No other player at the 2006 World Cup had more shots that weren’t penalty kicks without scoring than Ronaldo did. He led the tournament in that category (25).
The World Cup in 2010 (South Africa)
Messi and Ronaldo were now widely recognized as the two finest players in the world at the time when the World Cup finals were being held in Africa for the very first time. Both players had just won their first Ballon d’Or trophy, Ronaldo in 2008 and Messi in 2009. The two competitors were now at the pinnacle of their careers after reaching this point.
Messi won the La Liga Pichichi Trophy with a league-high 34 goals, ahead of Gonzalo Higuain (27) and Ronaldo, before the duo went head-to-head in the 2009-10 Spanish top-flight season. Prior to the 2010 tournament in South Africa, the pair had just gone toe-to-toe in the Spanish top-flight season (26).
Messi participated in each and every minute of Argentina’s five games in the 2010 World Cup; yet, he was unable to make the effect that was anticipated. His lone goal involvement throughout the whole tournament was an assist that he provided against Mexico in the round of 16. It was Messi’s turn to have the most shots attempted (29), as well as the greatest non-penalty xG total of any player who did not score (1.74).
It was like a repeat performance for Argentina, who were eliminated by Germany in the quarterfinals. This was Argentina’s worst performance in any knockout round in their entire history (4-0).
Messi and Ronaldo faced off against each other at the 2010 World Cup. Things didn’t go much better for now-Portuguese captain Ronaldo, who was enduring a difficult spell with his national team prior to the tournament. Prior to the tournament, Ronaldo had failed to score in any of his seven qualifying appearances. Messi and Ronaldo faced off against each other at the 2010 World Cup.
Portugal struggled to get out of their group, which included Brazil, Ivory Coast, and North Korea, ultimately falling to Spain in the round of 16 by a score of 1-0. Ronaldo’s only goal involvement came in Portugal’s 7-0 win against the underdog North Korean team on Match Day 2. Ronaldo scored one goal and assisted on another goal in the rout. North Korea was not favored to win the match.
The World Cup in 2014 (Brazil)
Ronaldo led his country into the 2014 World Cup having just become the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer (49), but Portugal would fail to progress through a World Cup group stage for the first time since 2002. Ronaldo led his country into the 2014 World Cup having just become the nation’s all-time leading goalscorer (49).
After suffering a humiliating loss in their first game, which was a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Germany, Portugal bounced back with a draw against the United States of America and a victory against Ghana. Ronaldo, who was playing despite an injury, did all he could to help bring his side to victory. He provided an assist to Silvestre Varela for the goal that tied the score in the 95th minute against the United States, and then he scored the game-winning goal in the 89th minute against Ghana. Portugal was eliminated from the competition, losing to the United States of America on the basis of goal difference. The United States concluded the competition as the runner-up against the Germans.
Messi and Ronaldo face off at the 2014 World Cup.
Lionel Messi, on the other hand, had a different fortune. He led Argentina all the way to the World Cup final for the first time since they lost to Germany in 1990. However, Argentina did not win the World Cup. Despite this, history would repeat itself as Argentina would end up suffering the same fate over and over again.
Messi came out of the gates strong, scoring a goal in all three of Argentina’s victories in their group—against Bosnia, Iran, and Nigeria. In point of fact, the Argentine scored more goals than any other player throughout the group stage of the 2014 competition, but Neymar and Thomas Müller were right there with him.
Messi would not score again in the tournament, but he would assist ngel Di Mara’s game-winning goal in Argentina’s 1-0 victory over Switzerland in the round of 16: Colombia’s James Rodrguez (six) and German star Müller (five) were the only players to outscore Messi by the tournament’s end. Messi would not score again in the tournament.
As a result of his exploits, Messi was presented with the Golden Ball, making him the first Argentine player to earn the honor since Diego Maradona in 1986. The decision to present Messi with the Golden Ball was met with considerable controversy. During the 2014 World Cup, Lionel Messi topped the tournament in many statistical categories, including chances created (23), chances created from open play (17), dribbles (46/76), carries (165), and passes played into the penalty area (61).
FIFA World Cup 2018 (Russia)
Messi started his 2018 World Cup campaign in Russia by missing a penalty in his team’s 1-1 draw with Iceland. He then went on to fail to register a shot on target in his team’s 3-0 loss to Croatia on Match Day 2, which is the only time he’s ever failed to do so in a World Cup group game. This was Messi’s first ever World Cup tournament where he was unable to do so. This was not the best way for him to begin his fourth World Cup finals competition.
As a means of response, Messi scored the opening goal for Argentina in their final group match against Nigeria. As a result, Argentina finished in second place in Group D and advanced to face eventual champions France in the round of 16. Messi would be eliminated from the World Cup at the earliest stage of his career, despite the fact that he had two assists during a goal-frenzied game with the French.
Messi vs. Ronaldo at the 2018 World Cup Ronaldo would suffer the same defeat at the hands of Uruguay in the round of 16, but his tournament would begin in a very different way. Ronaldo became the oldest player to ever score a hat trick in a World Cup game when he tied Spain 3-3 with a hat trick in Portugal’s first group game. The game was Portugal’s 3-3 draw with Spain (33 years, 130 days old).
After that, he scored the lone goal in Portugal’s 1-0 win over Morocco on Match Day 2, bringing his total goal tally at World Cup competitions to seven. Only Eusébio of Portugal’s national team has scored more goals in World Cup finals than any other player (nine – all in 1966).
Knockout B̶l̶o̶w̶s̶ Woes
You may have realized by this point that neither Messi nor Ronaldo has scored a goal in a World Cup knockout game. This is something that you may have observed.
They have played a combined total of 1,270 minutes in World Cup action, during which they have each taken a total of 48 shots, with 16 of those attempts landing on target; however, none of them has scored a single goal in a knockout match. A peculiar anomaly that will almost certainly be remedied in Qatar in the next year.
Messi and Ronaldo Face Off in the World Cup Knockout Rounds
There have been 105 players who have scored for their nation in the knockout stages of the World Cup since the pair made their first appearance at a World Cup in 2006. The three players who have stood out during this time are Miroslav Klose, Wesley Sneijder, and Thomas Müller, all of whom have scored five goals.
It should come as no surprise that Ronaldo and Messi have the most shots in the knockout stages since 2006, with 25 and 23 shots respectively. However, unfortunately for Messi, his non-penalty xG of 1.92 is also the most among players in that cohort. At least Ronaldo has the consolation of knowing that four other people have it even worse than he does in this regard.
Record Lows for Shots Taken in World Cup Knockout Rounds
If Ronaldo scores a goal in the knockout stage of the World Cup next month at the age of 37, he will not only become the second oldest player in World Cup history to score a goal in the knockout stage, behind only Roger Milla of Cameroon in 1990 (who was 38 years old), but he will also become the first player in World Cup history to score in five different editions of the competition.
The Final Battle
An early Christmas present for football fans all over the world, with many wishing for a Messi vs. Ronaldo showdown to take place on the biggest stage of them all, could be that Argentina and Portugal make it all the way to the World Cup final in Qatar this December. Of course, it is entirely possible that Argentina and Portugal could go all the way to the final.
There is also the possibility that the two teams will face each other in the semifinals if either team wins their group and the other team finishes in second place. Additionally, there is the possibility, albeit a remote one, that football’s two most famous players will face each other in the playoff for third place. If this were to occur, the match would likely become the most-watched World Cup consolation match in the tournament’s history.
Messi and Ronaldo will face off in the World Cup.
Messi is the only player in Europe’s top five leagues this season to record 10 assists, making him the only candidate out of the two to carry his team to the latter stages of the competition based on their current form. As a result, Messi has a greater chance than his teammate of advancing further in the competition. During the same time period, only Erling Haaland (21 – 18 goals, three assists) and Neymar (20 – 11 goals, nine assists) have been directly involved in more league goals than Lionel Messi has this season. Messi’s direct involvement in goals is represented by the number 21. (17 – seven goals, 10 assists).
This season, no one in the top five European leagues has been more of a threat than Messi from an attacking standpoint. He is averaging 1.2 expected goal involvements per 90 minutes from non-penalty situations, which means that he is getting into scoring positions and creating high-value chances. No one else has come close.
The Golden Ball Belongs to Messi at the World Cup
Jonny Whitmore is the Senior Data Editor. [Jonny Whitmore]
On the other hand, Ronaldo’s minutes-per-goal rate for Portugal in 2022 is one every 284 minutes, which is his worst rate in a calendar year since he averaged 510 minutes per goal in 2009. Things aren’t looking good at club level either, with the Portuguese player being branded as an attacking hindrance to Erik ten Hag’s Manchester United side. This led to the Portuguese player publicly criticizing the club and manager in an interview that was released over the weekend. Things aren’t looking good at the club level either.
Ronaldo has only logged 520 minutes in the Premier League so far this season, and he only has one goal to show for his efforts. This season, Ronaldo has struggled to get playing time in the Premier League. His non-penalty shots are averaging an xG of just 0.08, which is his lowest on record in a league campaign. He appears to be making every effort to demonstrate that he is still capable of performing at the level he did in the past.
Cristiano Ronaldo Premier League 2022-23
Therefore, only Demarai Gray (3.4%) has a lower conversion percentage than Ronaldo (4.0%) among the 162 players that scored in the Premier League in 2022-23. On the other hand, this is Ronaldo. You can’t rule him out.
He only needs one goal in Qatar to surpass the likes of Germans Uwe Seeler and Miroslav Klose as the first player in World Cup history to score in five different tournaments. Pelé, the Brazilian legend, and Seeler and Klose both played for Germany. Despite his poor performance for his club team in 2022-2023, you would expect Ronaldo to pull it off given that the group stage includes matches against Ghana, Uruguay, and South Korea.