MOSCOW – Lionel Messi stared, hands on hips, pain over a face that was once boyish and filled with boundless joy, now obscured by a brown beard and hardened by expectations for his nation.
Four hours later and 950 miles (1,530 kilometers) away, Cristiano Ronaldo's eyes were wide with anger as he protested shortly before the final whistle and argued again with a referee. The tirade gave Ronaldo a second yellow card that would have blocked him for the next game. Do not worry, Portugal's World Cup ended in defeat.
Saturday is likely to mark the end of an era for the World Cup, where much of the hype and the pre-tournament centered around the best players in the world, the Spanish league rivals, who have evenly distributed the last 1
Messi is one week after his 31st birthday and Ronaldo 33, former phenomena are unlikely to reach Qatar in 2022 or retain their extraordinary abilities if they manage to persevere.
For both superstars, a world title remained an unattainable star. On Saturday, they were outshined by a team from Paris Saint-Germain, Frenchman Kylian Mbappe and Uruguayan Edinson Cavani. Younger legs have more speed and endurance. Most importantly, Cavani and Mbappe had more support and less pressure.
Messi has not won a national team title with his nation, scored the final in the 2014 World Cup, and shot penalties in Messi's 2007, 15 and 16 Copa Americas on penalties. He was heavily criticized at home and dropped out of the national team just to be lured back for this World Cup cycle.
Ronaldo lost a World Cup semi-final in 2006, but never came back beyond the second round. He helped Portugal at his first European Championship in 2016.
If Argentina and Portugal win on Saturday, the rivals would have reached a place in the semi-finals. Instead, they will drive to the airport. Argentina lost 4-3 in Kazan while Portugal won 2-1 at Uruguay in Sochi 2-1.
Brazil's Pele and Argentina's Diego Maradona became home-grown treasures hailed for World Cup titles and world stars. Fans who have never seen them play for their clubs know Pele and Maradona's achievements at the global tournament every four years.
Messi and Ronaldo will be remembered for great success, but no land triumph.
Barcelona signed the 13- The one-year messi was scribbled on a napkin in 2000. He was 17 when he made his debut in the first team. There were four titles in the Champions League, nine in the Spanish league and six in the Copa del Rey. Adoration at Camp Nou became worship; The media called him "La Pugla (The Flea)" for his small frame and unprecedented acceleration, and Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger equated Messi's moves with a video game creation and declared he was "like a PlayStation".
He scored at a rate once unfathomable: 383 goals in 418 league games, 100 in 125 Champions League games and 552 in 637 appearances of the first team in total. He was a life imprisonment for one of the most popular clubs in the world, his own brand, which has fallen in love with Spain, but has distanced itself from its compatriots in South America. Too often his World Cup defeats have been compared to Maradona's achievements.
Also Ronaldo debuted at 17 at Sporting Lisbon. His crossover dribbling was already famous when Alex Ferguson grabbed him for Manchester United before the 2003/04 season and gave him the No. 7 of the just-deceased David Beckham. After six seasons, including three Premier League titles, a Champions League and an FA Cup, he moved to Real Madrid and scored 450 goals in 438 games, won four Champions League titles and the league and the trophy twice each. He set a Champions League record with 120 goals and put Messi in the distance.
They were football yin and yang, Messi unobtrusive and distant, Ronaldo extravagant with a model girlfriend and eye-catching hairstyles. They are global spokespersons, Ronaldo for Nike, Toyota and many more; Messi for Adidas and Pepsi
Ronaldo has taken a goatee for this World Cup. He said it was because of a bet with his Portuguese team-mate Ricardo Quaresma, but it coincided with the release of a commercial by Messi with a real goat – as in "Greatest of All Time".
They have talked and become widely known names continents far away, king of the Internet age, when satellites ran their two weekly games with households, bars and laptops in a way that they did not Pele, Maradona and predecessors could imagine.
But now their time at the top has come to an end. Mbappe, just 19, and others in the next generation are ready for leading roles. It's too early to announce what's going to be the best. When dusk arrived late on a Russian midsummer night, dawn was approaching.
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