The World Cup is not the last dance for Messi and Ronaldo


This is not “The Last Dance”. nor Cristiano Ronaldo nor Lionel Messi has announced his retirement, and no man has already won the biggest prize in football, the World Cup, which is about five weeks from now.

It’s not even a “changing of the guard”. Sure, he has an heir apparent, but of the two obvious ones — erling holland And kilian mbappe — someone must be watching Queue 2022 on TV because Norway failed to qualify, while the other side is surrounded by so much talent France Teams who are already World Champions are hard to see stand aside and they need to be regulars like Cristiano and Leo for club and country. (About Holland: A nice side-effect of the 2026 tournament in the US, Mexico And Canada Being “super-sized” by 50% to include 48 teams means superstars are much less likely to miss out.)

More simply, it’s the two best who ever competed in any sport, squeezing the last ounce, grit, and talent out of their war-weary bodies before father time drops the last grain of sand down the hourglass. By sending

The final of the World Cup is to be played at the Lusail Stadium in Doha on 18 December. Both are striving to be there because when the next match takes place in July 2026, Ronaldo will be 41 and Messi 39. And the definition of impossible is “not possible” but “not yet achieved” for people like him, the rest of us live in the real world, which is governed by physics and the laws of nature.

In fact, that’s the crux of the game. The long-held (and childish) mantra that you can only be among the GOATs if you’ve won a championship — an idea that legends like Charles Barkley and Ted Williams held — becomes especially silly in this game. Your team is determined by birth and lineage: you don’t get a chance to join a contender at the end of your career. Success or failure is determined over only seven games, and you only get your shot every four years, meaning most mortals only get to bite off a couple of cherries. (Ronaldo and Messi, of course, don’t fit that category: For both, this will be their record-tying fifth World Cup.)

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It has wrinkles. For the best part of the last 15 years, we thought of them as No. 1 and No. 1A, traveling in parallel across time and space, redefining a sport and business as they went along. However, this time they have arrived in Doha from very different places.

messi who left barcelona (after 21 seasons at the club) to join Paris Saint Germain Two summers ago, Ab is playing some of the best football he has played since he turned 30. After a difficult first campaign in the City of Light, he returned well-rested last summer and flourished alongside Mbappe. neymar In PSG’s star-studded attack. He leads Ligue 1 in assists with 10 and has scored 12 goals in 19 starts, none of them penalties, in all competitions. The last time he scored so many non-penalty goals was in the 2018-19 season, till mid-November.

They also have the peace of mind to deliver a big trophy Argentina — 2021 Copa America, made sweeter by the fact that it was won Brazilagainst Brazil. And, of course, they are supported by an Argentina side that, as of July 2019, is undefeated in 35 matches: if they avoid defeat in the group stage, they will break the record of 37 games held by them. it was done. Italy,

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Ronaldo’s World Cup preparation, on the other hand, has been anything but smooth. Following the appointment of a new manager, Erik ten Haag manchester unitedHowever, there were serious questions about whether it made sense for him to be part of the club’s long-term rebuild given his age and style of play. That question was, in many ways, answered on the pitch: He made just four league starts through mid-November, scoring one goal. The last time that was 19 years ago, his debut season in his first stint at United when he was just 18 years old.

and that was before dhamaka interview He gave it to Piers Morgan in which he lambasted the club, saying he had “no respect” for Ten Haag. It was the kind of unauthorized, full-frontal barrage that likely This means he will never play for United again,

For a player whose career has been built around regularity and certainty – six years at Sporting, six years at Manchester United, nine years real madridon three juventus – He is now, by choice, leaping into a void, sacrificing popularity (at least among United fans) for … what? Maybe he doesn’t even know; Perhaps he just wanted the clarity to wipe the slate clean and be able to focus solely on Qatar and then worry about what happens next in January.

If there’s a common thread here other than their intertwined legacies, it’s that both men suffered serious setbacks in the run-up to the World Cup.

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Ronaldo is living through it now. Imagine being the record goalscorer in both men’s international football and club football, imagine being third-leading scorer in the Premier League last season, and now finding yourself with one league goal. Macy’s adopted it a year ago. In an eerie parallel to an emotional and tearful farewell to Barcelona, ​​bitterness towards their former president José María Bartomeu, the first half of the season in Paris – which also saw just one league goal at this stage of the season.

But in life, as in sports, timing matters. Messi had the worst six months of his career with a year away from the World Cup; Ronaldo is in the thick of it at the moment, and it could make all the difference.

World Cups don’t make stars like before, if only because the sport is so global that we know almost everything about almost everyone, and there are fewer stars to be found. The next generation is ready to take over and may even overtake them on the pitch.

And yet, make no mistake about it, for now, in terms of narrative, in terms of attention span, in terms of bloody-brains, clock-ticking-last-ditch story and expected end of Hollywood. In matter, there is no one to equal him.

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