Messi and Ronaldo: the incomplete World Cup neighbours
June 13 2018 12:50 AM
Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo.

DPA/Bronnitsy, Russia

If Cristiano Ronaldo shared the taste for mate tea, he could spontaneously meet Lionel Messi at the World Cup. 
The five-time world footballer from Portugal is separated from the five-time world footballer from Argentina by about 30 kilometres - a virtual stone’s throw in a country the size of Russia.
Portugal are based at FK Saturn’s facility in Kratovo Village near Moscow, where the glamorous Ronaldo, in addition to his extraordinary talent, displays his exceptionally well-toned body and is currently causing a stir with his possible departure from Real Madrid. 
A short distance away, in the hardly picturesque Bronnitsy, is the largely unspectacular Messi, the Barcelona player once nicknamed La Pulga, the flea.
For both, the World Cup in Russia is likely the last chance to add football’s biggest honour. 
Ronaldo, now 33, did at least win Euro 2016 with Portugal while Messi, 31 on June 24, has never lifted a trophy with the Albiceleste.
“We all want the same thing: a big title with the national team,” said Messi. “The World Cup is our dream, the dream of the whole country.”
Ronaldo was cautious about his chances. “We know that we are not the favourites,” he said. “We will do the same as in 2016. Fight to the end and see what comes of it.”
He himself could not fight to the end of the Euro 2016 final in Paris. His eyes filled with tears, he exited injured after 25 minutes against France.
But he was able to drive his team, from the sidelines, to a 1-0 victory after extra-time.
The same summer, Messi was retiring from the national team after losing a major final for the third successive year. The 2014 World Cup loss to Germany preceded consecutive Copa America defeats, on penalties, to Chile.
Counting the 2007 Copa final defeat it was too much for Messi who threw in the towel - only to be immediately pulled back.
The campaign even included Argentina’s head of state Mauricio Macri who intervened and joined the Twitter hashtag #NoTeVayasLio (Do not go, Lio).
It took only weeks for Messi to change his mind and announce he would lead his country to Russia. There were already enough problems in Argentine football, “I do not want to cause even more,” he said.
Argentina did not have a straight forward qualifying campaign but, needing a win in their final game in Ecuador, were rescued by Messi’s hat-trick having fallen behind.
Messi, holds four Champions League titles with Barcelona and nine Spanish championships. Ronaldo, has four Champions League titles with Real Madrid, one with Manchester United, two Spanish championships and three Premier League titles. 
But while Messi, and Barca, have recently ruled the roost in Spain he has been unable to work the magic in the Champions League. Ronaldo, and Real, have defined a new era with three successive victories from 2016.
Not since Kaka in 2007 has the world footballer of the year award gone outside the pair which set the global standard for individual performance. 
Their shared interests also includes tax troubles with Spanish authorities - if Ronaldo did like mate tea, he and his Russian neighbour Messi would have no shortage of topics for conversation.

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