For the first time since 2005, the UEFA Champions League quarter-finals will feature neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo. Is this a sign that we have come to the end of an era for both players or Is it now Mbappe and Haaland O’clock?
Well in the game of footie, players will always come and go. Before the Argentine and Portuguese, we had Zinedine Zidane from France and his compatriot, Thierry Henry. There was the real Ronaldo and Ronaldinho from Brazil, Roberto Baggio from Italy, Hristo Stoichkov from Bulgaria, Andriy Shevchenko from Ukraine, Gheorge Hagi from Romania, the Laudrup brothers Michael and Brian from Denmark, David Beckham from England and J.J.Okocha from Nigeria.
Careers will begin and end after sometime, some even before time. No player reigns forever except of course you are Diego Maradona who has left for the great beyond and Edson Arentes do Nascimento known simply as Pele. Those two, the way we talk about them, one would think that they just left football yesterday but the truth is that since they both retired, no single footballer seemed able to have impacted football as much as they did, well, not until the arrival at the stage of the two most talked about footballers on earth at the moment, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo.
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The journey to the total dominance of world football by the two players in the last 15 years started in somewhat similar fashion. At age 18, C. Ronaldo made his first senior appearance for Portugal in a 1–0 victory over Kazakhstan on 20 August 2003 before being part of the team to the UEFA Euro 2004, a competition where he made the All Star team by helping Portugal reach the final with two goals and two assists. That was the moment he could have become a champion of Europe as a teenager but for the unexpected loss to Greece in the final.
Ronaldo who had become the most expensive teenager in English football when he signed for Manchester United in 2003 for a record transfer fee of £12.24 million had won the FA Cup just a couple of weeks before that Euro tournament hosted by his own country. He grew in name and stature from then on and never looked back.
For Messi, his own debut for Argentina also came at the age of 18. It was however a debut to forget as he got himself sent off just after 2 minutes following an elbow incident with a Hungarian player who was holding on to his shirt. Just like C. Ronaldo wept after losing the EURO 2004 final, Messi also wept following the sending off but he dusted it off and made a couple of appearances for the Argentinean national side before being rewarded with a place in the 2006 world cup party. Having sat out the first game against Ivory Coast due to a niggling hamstring injury, Messi In the next match, against Serbia and Montenegro, became the youngest player to represent Argentina at a FIFA World Cup when he came on as a substitute in the 74th minute and scored the final goal in their 6–0 victory, making him the youngest scorer at the 2006 tournament and the sixth-youngest goalscorer in the history of the World Cup, just a year after winning the world U-20 championship in the Netherlands by beating Nigeria in the final. The same year he won his first Spanish Primera Liga title with Barcelona, repeating same in 2006 just before capping it with the UEFA champions League. Messi has since gone on to win the same UEFA champions league on three more occassions and had never failed to play in the quater-finals with Barcelona since 2006 till PSG happened on them a couple of weeks back.This snaps their run of 13 consecutive quarterfinal appearances, the longest in the competition’s history.
Meanwhile, Messi, who has scored in 16 consecutive seasons in the competition has netted 120 goals but is one title behind Ronaldo with 4 to his name.
Ronaldo joined Juventus having previously won Europe’s top competition once with Manchester United (2008) and four times with Real Madrid (2014, 2016-18). He is the competition’s all-time leading scorer with 134 goals.
It would be recalled that the pair ended 2014/15 level on 77 goals but since then Ronaldo pulled away and leads 134–120 in terms of UEFA Champions League goals. In all UEFA club competition action the scoreline is 137–123 in favour of the Portuguese forward.
Juventus exiting the UCL marks the third time (Ajax, 2019; Lyon, 2020; Porto, 2021) they have failed to progress past the quarter-finals since signing Ronaldo, having reached the final twice in four years before he joined.
Messi aged 33 and Ronaldo 35, both not being able to take their teams into the last 8 of the UCL could mean only one thing. A change of guard is imminent.
UCL last 8 fixtures:
Real Madrid vs Liverpool
Mancity Vs Dortmund
Bayern Vs PSG
Porto vs Chelsea.
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