Two of football’s biggest stars exited the FIFA World Cup™ in the space of just four hours as the knockout stages kicked off with an almighty bang.
First, Lionel Messi’s Argentina departed following an incredible goal-fest with France, before Uruguay edged out Cristiano Ronaldo’s Portugal. The result is that these modern-day icons, who have dominated the game’s individual accolades for the last decade, will be watching the rest of of the tournament from home.
Expectations were high for both to perform, with Ronaldo arriving off the back of yet another UEFA Champions League win and Messi having starred in Barcelona’s La Liga triumph. But although both have made it to the final weekend in the past – Ronaldo having finished fourth in 2006, Messi second in 2014 – the last 16 was where their journey ended this time.
With both now into their 30’s, this could well have been their last chance to win the World Cup – almost certainly while still at the peak of their powers. Fans will now watch with intrigue to see who will follow Messi as the latest adidas Golden Ball winner, having seen the Argentinian scoop the prize four years ago.
As they both head for home, we take a look at how their time in Russia will be remembered.
Having missed a penalty against Iceland in their opening game, and with Argentina in disarray against Croatia, it looked like the tournament might be denied a bit of premium Messi magic. However, the magical No10 delivered in spectacular style with La Albiceleste’sbacks against the wall. In one instinctive, flowing movement in the match against Nigeria, Messi took the ball on his thigh, caressed it into his path and fired into the net, wheeling away in a celebration of purest catharsis.