The curtains came down on the campaigns of the two best players in this generation as both Argentina and Portugal were eliminated from Russia 2018 just a few hours apart. This could, possibly, be the last we’ve seen from these two legends at a World Cup – or even at a major tournament – with Messi being 31 and Ronaldo 34, marking this day as a historical one in the world of football.
Messi’s fate was sealed first after an enthralling nail-biter with France in the early game of the day. Not many people expected the Argentinians to beat Les Bleus, but Messi and co. didn’t go down without a fight. France opened the scoring in the 13′ from Antoine Griezmann’s penalty after Kylian Mbappe was hacked down in the box by Marcus Rojo. But Argentina responded just before the break with an absolute piledriver from Angel Di Maria. His strike is a contender for goal of the tournament.
Messi finally got himself on the leaderboard in the 48′ when his goal-bound shot deflected off Mercado and in, registering an assist for the Barcelona man and putting Argentina 2-1 ahead. But, on the topic of goal of the tournament, right-back Benjamin Pavard unleashed a rocket of his own from the top of the box and into the top corner — a goal similar to Nacho’s goal for Spain against Portugal… just higher… and not off the posts. Mbappe would then wreak havoc again (in the 64′) as he found himself some space in a crowded penalty area and smashed the ball straight through Armani’s hand to give the French their lead back. Frankly, it should have been meat and drink for Armani. But it was another error by an Argentine goalkeeper. (When will it ever end?)
Argentina found themselves with an even steeper mountain to climb just four minutes later when Mbappe doubled his tally from Giroud’s perfectly weighted through-ball. The Monaco wonderkid now PSG mercurial was lighting up the world stage, and it was a delight to see. Argentina gave themselves a bit of hope in the third minute of stoppage time with Aguero heading home from a delightful Messi pass, but it proved to be nothing but a consolation as France held on to claim victory.
We may have seen the beginning of the Argentine exodus with Javier Mascherano announcing his retirement shortly after the game. Surely, it’s not going to be long until we see Messi follow suit (again).
This was the first time in a 90-minute World Cup match that we’ve had a 4-3 scoreline.
In Ronaldo’s case, Portugal were chasing the game from the 7th minute after Edinson Cavani strongly headed home from Luis Suarez’s cross from the left flank. Before their 3-0 win over Russia, Uruguay never won a game when Cavani scored. In that game, he scored their third goal in second half stoppage, so there was no way that they were going to lose. But scoring early in this game raised a few doubts about Cavani’s jinx. Ronaldo did try to respond with attempts from outside of the box, but the defensive duo of Godin and Jiminez ensured that his shots didn’t even reach Fernando Muslera’s goal.
Portugal found an equalizer in the 55′ when Pepe got his head to Guerrero’s cross and directed the ball past Muslera, who didn’t seem to expect it coming after the ball evaded Ronaldo’s head. But they only remained level for seven minutes as Cavani struck again, this time with a wonderful curling shot past Rui Patricio from the top of the box. Ronaldo’s day got even worse when he was booked in stoppage time, a yellow card that would keep him out of the next game if Portugal had gotten there. But El Matador’s two goals proved to be priceless at the end, giving Uruguay a deserved victory and a quarter-final showdown with Uruguay next Friday.
Cavani now has five World Cup goals to his name – only Oscar Miguez (8), Luis Suarez (7) and Diego Forlan (6) have scored more for Uruguay.
With both Messi and Ronaldo being goal-shy today, they’ve extended their record of not scoring in a World Cup knockout game. Hard to believe, huh?
It’s also hard to imagine that this may very well be the last time we see these two on the world’s greatest stage. They’ve provided many wonderful moments for their respective countries over the years which would remain in our memories for many years.
But now that they’re out, could we finally have a comparison-free tournament now? Those Messi-Ronaldo debates were sickening. Finally, We can watch the World Cup without pundits talking about Ronaldo this, and Messi that. Actual football is back, and there’s still a long way to go until the greatest show on earth concludes. So sit back, relax, and enjoy the beautiful game at its peak.
Image Credit: FIFA™; Bleacher Report Football.