Messi, Ronaldo World Cup exits signal changing of the guard


Moscow (AFP) – Step aside Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo… there is a new group of kids on the block ready to seize the limelight and form the next generation of global megastars.

French teenager Kylian Mbappe announced himself in dramatic fashion on Saturday, overshadowing Messi as France beat Argentina 4-3 in the World Cup last 16.

That took his goal tally for the tournament to three — two behind England talisman Harry Kane and one behind Belgium’s Romelu Lukaku.

Messi and Ronaldo, captain of the Portugal side beaten 2-1 by Uruguay, also on Saturday, had been on a quarter-final collision course but the closest they will now come to each other in Russia is the airport departure lounge.

While they have set goal records tumbling both in Europe and Spain year after year, amazingly neither has ever been able to find the net in a World Cup knockout match in a combined 14 games.

For all Messi’s brilliance at club level with Barcelona, it appears the 2014 final defeat to Germany is the closest he will ever come to winning the World Cup.

Real Madrid forward Ronaldo, a European champion with Portugal two years ago, will be 37 by the time the next global showpiece rolls around — meaning it is unlikely he will improve on a run to the semi-finals in 2006.      

– Mbappe leads the charge –

With the exits of the pair, both five-time world players of the year, confirmed on the same day, the stage is clear for a handful of young, hungry pretenders to seize the spotlight.

Leading the charge is the 19-year-old Mbappe, who achieved a feat no player had accomplished in 60 years, becoming the first teenager to score twice in a World Cup match since a 17-year-old Pele in 1958.

“I’m very happy, and it’s flattering to be compared to a great player like Pele,” said Mbappe, born a few months after France won the 1998 World Cup.

“But he’s in another category. Still, it’s great to join the list of players that have achieved such feats.”

The Paris Saint-Germain striker, who as a child had posters of Ronaldo plastered across his bedroom wall, has three goals in three starts in Russia.

He finds himself trailing England striker Kane in the race for the Golden Boot, but his terrorising of the Argentina defence underlined his growing menace. He’s not so much as arriving as arrived.

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