Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi at the World Cup & could they play each other at Russia 2018?

Cristiano Ronaldo Lionel Messi Portugal Argentina 2014
(Getty)

They are the two greatest footballers of modern football, and yet they have never faced each other on the world’s biggest stage.

As the two near their twilight years – Messi is 30, while Ronaldo is 33 – could Russia finally be the tournament where the two clash against each other with their respective national teams?

There is now a high possibility that the two stars will clash this World Cup, should they win their respective last 16 fixtures – Argentina over France, and Portugal over Uruguay – to set up a quarter-final tie.

Goal takes a look at both stars’ international records as well as their performances in previous World Cups, and their potential clash this summer.

Has Ronaldo played Messi at the World Cup?

Though the two have faced each other a total of 35 times with their respective clubs, they have never played against one another in a World Cup final.

Argentina did play Portugal in an international friendly in November of 2014, however, though it proved to be anti-climactic as both were subbed off at half-time. Though Messi was the star player on the night, it was Portugal who made their efforts count when substitute Raphael Guerriero scored a late goal to give Ronaldo’s side a last-ditch 1-0 win.

It was Ronaldo’s return to his former club home as well, though he failed to get off the mark and even prove to be a threat on goal as his only real effort went over the bar.

The main difference between the two athletes is that Ronaldo has lifted an honour international with his national team while Messi is still empty-handed.

Ronaldo was instrumental in Portugal’s most recent Euro 2016 win, and Messi has faced heartbreak after heartbreak with Argentina – finishing as runners-up in the 2014 World Cup final after Germany’s Mario Gotze scored a stoppage time goal, and then as runners-up in Copa America to twice in a row in 2015 and 2016.

Messi has reached four finals with Argentina, never managing a win, and briefly retired from national team duties in 2016 after the loss to Chile – though retracted his statement after fans campaigned for him to change his mind.

Could Ronaldo play Messi at this World Cup?

It is highly possible that the two will clash this summer, but not until at least the quarter-finals stage. To set up a quarter-final tie, the two had to finish in the same position in their group and then go on to defeat their last-16 opponents.

Argentina and Portugal both did end up finishing as runners-up in their groups. Argentina were in danger of being eliminated in the group stage after drawing to Iceland in their first game and then losing 3-0 to Croatia, but managed to pip to the second spot following a 2-1 win against Nigeria.

Portugal claimed second place after drawing to Spain 3-3 and Iran 1-1, while registering a 1-0 win over Morocco. They very well could have won their group were it not for the intervention of VAR in stoppage time of their final fixture against Iran, where they conceded a penalty.

Argentina and Portugal will now need to win their last 16 fixtures in order to face off in the quarter-final. It will be no easy task, however, as Argentina face France and Portugal face Uruguay, who won all three of their group fixtures.

Is this Ronaldo & Messi’s last World Cup?

Cristiano Ronaldo Lionel Messi Portugal Argentina 2014

Potentially. Despite Ronaldo stating that he would be keen to play football at the highest level until he was 41, even his physicality isn’t that blessed and would have to face the reality of retirement pretty soon as he is 33 years of age.

He has won almost every honour there is, on individual, club and international levels, winning five Ballon d’Or awards. The one trophy he is missing, obviously, is the World Cup with Portugal, though lifted the Euro 2016 award.

Messi turns 31 this June and this tournament is seen as his best and last chance for a final shot at World Cup glory. Argentina have consistently been dismissed as a one-man team, often having to rely on Messi’s efforts, as shown during the qualifying match against Ecuador when they needed the Barcelona ace to score a hat-trick after finding themselves a goal down.

There remains the everlasting debate that winning a World Cup is what makes you the greatest of all-time, though Messi has already shown that he is – and more.

How have Messi & Ronaldo performed at previous World Cups?

Though Messi has outperformed Ronaldo consistently in the World Cup, he has yet to lift a single international honour with Argentina.

Ronaldo has managed to score just three goals in all of his World Cup appearances so far – scoring one goal in each tournament over the course of 12 years – while Messi’s best output was in 2014 when Argentina finished as runners-up against Germany.

That year, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball award – given to the player chosen by the FIFA committee and media representatives by the best-performing footballer of the tournament – but missed out on the major trophy of the World Cup itself.