This World Cup is a pivotal moment in the eternal Lionel Messi-Cristiano Ronaldo debate. It will most likely be the last time the icons will be in the tournament together unless Cristiano is still playing at an elite level at 37-years-old. Even though Argentina and Portugal both had a draw in their first group stage match, Messi and Ronaldo’s individual performances were on the opposite ends of the spectrum.
Before the tournament, Adidas ran a campaign starring Barcelona’s all-time leading scorer with a goat. G.O.A.T. is an acronym popularized by rapper/actor LL Cool J which stands for greatest of all time. The image must’ve been on the five-time Champions League winner’s mind. After his club teammate Nacho Fernandez fouled him to draw a penalty and he converted, Real Madrid’s all-time leading scorer stroked his chin which many believe was done to reference the beard of a goat. The taunt may have also been towards goalie David De Gea because before the penalty, the Manchester United man attempted to play mind games with the five-time Ballon d’Or winner. His efforts didn’t work and some think the stroking of the chin was done to make fun of De Gea’s beard.
Eventually, it seemed like Portugal’s captain got in the head of Spain’s no. 1 because De Gea made a blunder to put Portugal up 2-1 in the 44th minute. Just in front of the 18-yard box, Cristiano hit a powerful shot with his left foot and it looked like it would be a routine block for the reigning Premier League Golden Glove winner. The ball bounced off De Gea’s glove and ended up rolling into the net. The five-time Champions League winner capped off his hat trick with a free kick in the 88th minute to secure a point for his nation. Overall, it was an efficient performance for the two-time La Liga winner. Ronaldo took four shots, with three on target for three goals. Messi on the other hand wasn’t as accurate.
The Argentina captain took 11 shots with three on target and no goals. As a team, La Albiceleste took 27 shots with only seven on goal. One of Messi’s shots was a penalty that was blocked by Iceland’s goalie Hannes Thor Halldorsson. The 2014 FIFA World Cup Golden Ball recipient has missed five of his last 10 penalty attempts for club and country. The five-time Ballon d’Or winner completed nine dribbles during the match, but in the final third he was stifled in his attempts to penetrate Iceland’s defense. Manager Jorge Sampaoli’s decision to play in a 4-2-3-1 formation was questionable. Iceland most of the time play with their whole team defending and are strategic when they choose to counterattack to preserve their energy. Therefore, playing with two defensive midfielders, Lucas Biglia and Javier Mascherano, seemed very pragmatic. After the match, the four-time Champions League winner voiced his frustration.
“It hurts me to have missed the penalty, because it was the decisive advantage. I feel responsible for not having been able to take the three points. I have no doubt that a goal from the penalty kick would have changed everything,” said Messi.
Almost two years ago to the day, Portugal and Iceland had a 1-1 draw in Euro 2016’s group stage opener. In that match, Ronaldo took 10 shots with only one being on target and no goals. Portugal went on to win the tournament so maybe Argentina can do the same.