The dream of Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo playing against each other in the World Cup ended as Argentina and Portugal both lost in their round of 16 contests. The five-time Ballon d’Or winners were both outplayed by a Paris Saint-Germain forward in their respective matches.
Messi runs into young and hungry French opposition
La Albiceleste was out powered by the pace, athleticism and direct play that France attacked them with in their 4-3 loss. 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe was the star of the show. In the 12th minute, the two-time Ligue 1 winner drew a penalty which was converted by Atletico Madrid forward Antoine Griezmann. Angel Di Maria, who is Mbappe’s
teammate at PSG, equalized the match in the 41st minute. Di Maria was unmarked outside the 18-yard box and was given the time to receive the ball from midfielder Ever Banega, switch the ball to his favored left foot and shoot a rocket into the net.
The second half started with manager Didier Deschamps switching Les Bleus from a 4-2-3-1, to a 4-3-3. Giving more freedom to Paul Pogba to make runs and participate in the attack. The plan didn’t go according to schedule initially because in the 48th minute the 14-time Copa America champions took the lead. Messi fired a shot into a crowded area where right-back Gabriel Mercado added a touch and led the shot into the goal. Nine minutes later, France’s right-back Benjamin Pavard wanted a goal of his own and fired a laser into the far post to equalize the match at 2-2. After that, it became the Mbappe show. The teenager scored in the 66th and 68th minutes to give his side a commanding lead. In the 92nd minute, Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero scored a header off a Messi assist but the game ended shortly afterwards.
Argentina’s manager Jorge Sampaoli spoke after the match about his struggle to get the best out of his nation’s all-time leading scorer in the tournament.
“On a personal level it is a great frustration. We had the best player in the world and we tried to put him in a position to score. We tried to surround him with the right players to take advantage of that talent; it is a talent that no other team has,” said Sampaoli.
Ronaldo succumbs to class and youth in worthy opponent
Edinson Cavani scored two fantastic goals to put Uruguay in the quarterfinals as they beat the reigning European champions 2-1. For the first goal, Luis Suarez and Cavani linked up in a beautiful movement in which the two-time Ligue 1 top goal scorer finished it with a powerful header.
“There was a cross to the left, then a cross to the right — there is no scheme against that. Their strikers were very strong. One was there, the other one came from behind. That was an incredible play. They have never scored like that before,” said Portugal’s manager Fernando Santos.
Centre-back Pepe equalized the match with his own header in the 55th minute with the assist coming from left-back Raphael Guerreiro. Cavani scored the game winner seven minutes later with a shot that emulated a curve ball pitch from baseball. Unfortunately, the 31-year-old suffered a calf injury and may not be fully fit when his nation faces
France on Friday.
Defensive midfielder, and potential future Arsenal signing, Lucas Torreira did a great job of marking the five-time Champions League winner. Ronaldo led the game in dribbles with five but was not allowed to get into goal scoring position. In his advanced age, the 33-year-old plays more like a poacher but in the first half, he did not get a touch at all in Uruguay’s penalty area. The two-time World Cup winners did an excellent job of stifling Portugal and may be a dark horse in the tournament if Cavani can repeat his performance.
Mixed legacy on the world stage
In their fourth appearance in the globe’s biggest tournament, both failed once again to play on the levels they do for their club teams. The knockout stage of the World Cup has not been kind to either as well. Messi has not scored in eight appearances and Ronaldo has not scored in six appearances. Overall, CR7 has scored seven goals in 17 World Cup appearances while La Pulga has scored six in 19 appearances. The furthest Cristiano has made it in the World Cup is the semifinals in 2006 while Messi and his side made the final in 2014 and lost to Germany in extra time.
Hopefully, this will not be the last time we see either in the World Cup but this is most likely the last time they will be in the primes participating in the game’s most prestigious event.