Both Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have won everything there is to win in a football career. Well, almost. As Messi – finally – lifted the Copa America trophy this summer, there was a huge weight off his shoulders as he got some silverware for his country. Ronaldo, of course, captained Portugal to its first major tournament win at Euro 2016.
But the crowning achievement for either player would be the World Cup. Understandably, given the players’ ages, the World Cup 2022 seems to represent the final hope for the greatest players of our generation to land the Jules Rimet trophy. In fact, you get the sense that Ronaldo and Messi are targeting the tournament as the perfect way to end their storied international careers, although there is some suggestion that Messi might play Copa America 2024.
Age is just a number for pair
Ronaldo will be 37 when the World Cup in Qatar (21st November – 18th December) gets underway. Messi will be 35. There is a sense that the normal rules don’t apply to the duo when it comes to age. But both players have had to adjust parts of their game to continue playing at the highest level. Parallels can be drawn with fellow veteran athletes like Roger Federer, who has played tennis years beyond the age when people expected him to retire. Like Federer, Messi and Ronaldo have been smart, and there is no reason to believe they won’t be considered the best in the world come November 2022.
Nevertheless, both Argentina and Portugal have established strong positions in World Cup qualifying, and it would seem almost unimaginable to have the Qatar World Cup without the pair leading out their respective nations. But what are the chances of success for either Messi or Ronaldo? Have they truly got a shot at landing the only major trophy they lack on their CVs?
According to the latest football betting odds from 888 sport, Argentina are priced at 11/1 to win the World Cup and Portugal 16/1. For context, that makes Argentina 8th favourites, and Portugal 9th. Now, those odds should be taken with a pinch of salt, as a lot could change between now and November 2022. Indeed, few fans expected Italy to win the Euros this summer, but Roberto Mancini had been quite building the Azzuri into a footballing powerhouse again.
Other players must step up to the plate
However, let’s face it: Winning World Cups is not easy, and there is only so much that both players can do. Before the Copa America and Euros this summer, questions were posed as to whether Argentina and Portugal strategies were too focused on their talismanic captains. The argument was that putting everything through Ronaldo or Messi actually held back the development and emergence of other players in the team.
Argentina and Messi obviously silenced those critics by delivering a trophy. And while Portugal had a disappointing Euro 2020, Ronaldo still won the Golden Boot award for top scorer. But the onus is on other players to deliver. Bruno Fernandes, for example, was ineffective during the Euros for Portugal, and he will need to be much better if a World Cup is the target next year.
Of course, we know that neither Ronaldo nor Messi has anything left to prove. Many of the all-time greats, from George Best to Eusebio to Johan Cruyff, did not win a World Cup. But many fans believe the talents of Messi and Ronaldo deserve football’s greatest prize. Can they deliver at the final stage of their careers? You would not rule it out.