Cristiano Ronaldo celebrates after scoring a goal for Portugal in the match against Spain ;a in the group stage of the World Cup in Sochi, Russia, on Friday, June 15, 2018.
The scene of the World Cup world is prepared for perhaps one last confrontation between the two best footballers of his generation and, for many, the two best of all time.
In Qatar, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are surely facing the last chance to win the ultimate trophy.
Despite their physical strength, they are unlikely to be available for the next tournament in 2026, when Messi will have 39 years old and Cristiano 41.
Pelé and Diego Maradona, probably the only two players who can challenge the supremacy of Messi and Cristiano in the history books, earned their reputations for their World Cup achievements.
Pelé won the trophy three times for Brazil, while Maradona led he led Argentina to the title in 1986 with a performance of such individual brilliance that he left his mark. an indelible mark on the tournament.
For all their talent, Messi and Cristiano have yet to emulate the two men they sought to outdo during their careers.
They are in the final stage of historic careers. Between them they have won 12 Ballon d'Ors, nine Champions League trophies, 18 league titles and many other accolades. But adding the World Cup would be the ultimate at a time when both players are seeing their powers wane.
Messi spoke recently as a man who finally accepts that he can't play forever. “I am lucky enough to be able to be in this World Cup at the age of 35”, said the Argentine captain in an interview with DirecTV Sports in October. “After this World Cup we will see what can happen at a career level”.
Meanwhile, Cristiano heads to Qatar with his career in disarray after not being able to leave Manchester United and maintaining a Strained relationship with manager Erik ten Hag.
Last month he was not called up for a game and had to train separately from the first team as punishment for refusing to come on as a substitute against Tottenham.
At this point, it is impossible to determine at what point. mental and physical condition will be at the World Cup.
Similarly, it is impossible to write off a player who has repeatedly set new standards, even in the twilight of his career. Recently, he scored the 700th goal at club level.
In their rivalry, Messi seems to have the advantage at the moment.
Although he has not replicated his best years at Barcelona since joining the club. to Paris Saint-Germain, is proving to be more influential in his second season in France, with the goals flowing once again.
If both are fit to compete in the World Cup it is because of the way they they have taken care of their bodies.
Dave Hancock, former physiotherapist for the England team and later turned coach As director of training and performance for the New York Knicks and currently running sports data management for the Apollo app, he believes football players have followed the lead of American athletes.
“You see that in a lot of American sports,” Hancock told The Associated Press. “I've seen him over the years taking care of people like Kevin Durant, Saquon Barkley in private.”
“If you look at Tom Brady, he is 45 years old. He has his own man of his. There is a team around them so that they realize that the longer they play, the more money they will earn. Hancock.
Hancock weighed in. that Messi and Cristiano share the same mental traits, although they are physically different.
“They are a little bit different and different players, what we call somatotypes, in their bodily physique,” he assessed. the expert. “But clearly those guys who play at the highest level for so long have understood what they have to do to keep it up, whether it's working in the gym, watching what they eat, sleeping.”
Not even Messi nor Cristiano will be defined by the World Cup, although they continue to be denied. Times have changed and club football has largely overtaken the international game in terms of profile and popularity due to the success of the Champions League and the Premier League in particular.
Fans around the world were able to witness the brilliance of Messi and Cristiano twice a week, which was never the case with Maradona and Pelé.
Their respective exploits at Barcelona and Real Madrid In particular, they created a rivalry the likes of which sport had never seen, with the Ballon d'Or becoming a personal duel for more than a decade, while their goalscoring statistics were taken to heights. They are getting bigger and bigger.
Such have been their achievements at club level that any argument suggesting they need to prove themselves in international competition has become redundant.
Especially because both ended barren streaks with their national teams, with Cristiano inspiring Portugal to victory at Euro 2016 and Messi lifting the Copa América with Argentina last year.
But the World Cup is the last fron tera, and perhaps a chance for one of these outstanding players to write a glorious final chapter.