When you hear stats such as Most FIFA Ballons d’Or and Most goals in a single season, you likely think of two of the most notable legends in the game of soccer, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo. The world loves to watch these athletes compete on during tournaments such as the World Cup, but will Qatar 2022 be their final time competing in the most prestigious tournament in the world?
Lionel Messi - Argentina
Lionel Messi is possibly the most lauded soccer player of any generation, and with good reason. Ever since he stepped into the scene about 25 years ago, the world has witnessed impossible feat after impossible feat from the little Argentine.
But Messi’s magic, beyond how outrageously talented he is, is that he simply doesn’t stop. He’s often been accused of being an alien, and if you’ve ever seen him play, it’s easy to imagine why.
His seemingly never-ending magic has helped him achieve numbers and records you’d expect from a video game character, such as:
- Titles won (31)
- Argentina’s all-time top scorer (90)
- The first player to reach 250 La Liga goals
- Most FIFA Ballons d’Or (8)
- Most consecutive Ballons d’Or (4)
- Guinness World Record as top scorer in a calendar year (91)
- Top scorer in a club season (73)
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. His numbers go on and on, and at 35 years old it seems he’s not even close to retiring.
Former Barcelona coach Pep Guardiola described it best: “Don’t write about him. Don’t try to describe him: watch him.” And that’s precisely what the world will be doing come November 20th, as Messi will have another chance to make his lifelong dream come true: winning the FIFA World Cup.
Messi’s trophy cabinet has an Argentina-sized hole, and it is no secret his eye is set on taking the trophy home this fall. The 35-year-old has stated he would happily trade his eight Ballons D’or in an instant for one World Cup trophy, and his performances on the pitch back him up.
But that’s only the beginning of his World Cup journey. Messi will be looking for redemption after painfully losing the 2014 FIFA World Cup Final to Germany in extra time, and if his performances in the last few years are any indication of what’s to come, we’re in for a treat this fall.
Argentina's coach Jorge Sampaoli famously said, “Messi doesn’t owe Argentina a World Cup, soccer owes Messi a World Cup because he is the best.” Whether or not anything is owed in soccer is up for debate, but if there’s one thing that isn’t, it’s that Messi may have yet one more rabbit to pull out of his never-ending magic hat in Qatar 2022.
Cristiano Ronaldo - Portugal
In recent months, many have been ready to write Cristiano off after an apparent "decline", citing old age as the source. His goal-scoring form dipped, and Manchester United didn’t qualify for the Champions League and has been struggling in the Premier League. Was it time for Ronaldo to hang up the boots?
Regardless of his current dip in performance, there is an important question being asked: "is Cristiano considered the greatest player of all time?"
Cristiano has made the Champions League, Europe's most prestigious and difficult soccer competition, his personal playground. In the Champions League, he holds the records for:
- Most goals (140)
- Most goals in a single season (17)
- Most finals won (five)
- The only player to score in three finals
- The only player to score in all six group-stage games
- The only player to score in ten Champions League games in a row
To put it in perspective, if Ronaldo was a club, he would be the ninth on the all-time scoring list in the Champions League. But what's more, he does all this in style. His famous bicycle kick against Juventus in the Champions League final was such an outstanding display of skill and athleticism that he became one of the few players in history to receive a standing ovation in a rival stadium.
But Cristiano is more than a club player. On the international stage, Ronaldo is the all-time top goal scorer for Portugal and is currently the 2nd highest international goal scorer of all time. He's participated in ten major tournaments: four UEFA European Championships in 2004, 2008, 2012, 2016, and 2020, three FIFA World Cups in 2006, 2010, and 2018, and one FIFA Confederations Cup in 2017, and scored in them all.
Love him or hate him, Ronaldo is impossible to ignore and is the man to deliver. He's entertaining, effective, knows how to put on a show and above all, knows how to win. In international competitions, he averages 0.94 goals per match, a number that says more than words ever could.
Cristiano will face off against Ghana, Uruguay, and South Korea in this year's World Cup. And while moving on to the next round will be no easy feat, there isn't a better man for the job than the one who led Portugal to their first-ever EUFA European Championship in 2016.
After having thoroughly conquered the rest of the soccer world, it’s now clear the FIFA World Cup is the only jewel left to place on Cristiano's ever-growing crown.