Published: Sun, July 01, 2018
Sport | By Tony Jimenez

Messi, Ronaldo bow out in dramatic knockout openers

Messi, Ronaldo bow out in dramatic knockout openers

Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli sprung a surprise when he dropped striker Gonzalo Higuain and replaced him with midfielder Cristian Pavon for the blockbuster World Cup round of 16 clash against France on Saturday.

Maybe they could look at some of their team-mates.

If the 33-year-old Messi, who previously quit the Argentina team in 2016 before changing his mind, does not continue until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, he will end his career without a major trophy for his country.

Messi scored four goals and converted his spot-kick in a semi-final shootout against the Netherlands to lead Argentina to a first World Cup final in 24 years.

Messi had one great chance that he would normally bury on his left foot that slipped just wide, but even winning the Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament did little to dim the pain of getting so close to the holy grail of following in Maradona's footsteps.

That is how long four years is in football - you can go from a dominating presence to someone struggling to stay afloat.

"I am sure that Portugal will continue to be one of the best teams in the world".

Messi is not Mascherano, of course. However, that pressure, that need to lead his country to the World Cup title, isn't quite as insane for the Real Madrid man.

Perhaps now we can enjoy the World Cup without the distraction of the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) debate or having to watch these two trying to single-handedly drag their teams over the line.

Ronaldo will be almost 38 by the time the next World Cup comes around in Qatar in 2022.

Such are the high standards they have set over the past decade, that Messi and Ronaldo might think, "If we can't be at our best, then it might not be worth it".

"Certainly, yes, Cristiano still has a lot to give to football".

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