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Messi and Ronaldo’s last ‘hurrah’ 

For the last 16 years, we have been lucky enough to witness the two greatest players to ever grace the game of football, playing at the biggest tournament on the planet and dominating. 

With 36 appearances, 13 World Cup goals, seven assists and an unprecedented number of thrilling moments, this World Cup could very much be their last. 

As heart-breaking and surreal it may be for all football fans to accept, who have had the pleasure to witness this great rivalry unfold over the years, unfortunately everything good must come to and end and this could well be the start of the end for these two phenomenons.  

Lionel Messi, the seven-time Ballon d’Or winner is now 35 and although he is still playing at a phenomenally high level, he can’t keep playing forever. The same can be said about Cristiano Ronaldo, five-time Ballon d’Or winner is now 37. It’s safe to say that age is not on their side if they’re wanting to go again in 2026. 

Ronaldo told reporters earlier on this year that “I expect Qatar could be my final World Cup. I often go on holidays there, to Qatar as well as Dubai. I am happy because for sure it will be my last international tournament”. 

Although Ronaldo has stated this, many fans still hope that there could still be potentially more in the Portuguese star, as he always strives for greatness and to continue to be the best. Also, Lionel Messi ‘retired’ for Argentina in 2016, only for him to then continue playing for them even ‘til this day (2022). 

Whenever a player comes to the end of their career, the international retirement usually comes first, at a sensible time for the player, for them to really bow out in the best way possible and make the most out of their last period as a professional. 

However, as we know from watching their whole careers unfold in front of our eyes, these two individuals aren’t like any other player before them and could well defy the odds even longer. 

It has become the new norm for players to be able to sustain their level into a greater age and play for longer, due to the advancement in the game in all areas.  

The ability to rely on proven scientific research helps players maintain their physical condition for as long as possible and is why we are now seeing ‘world class players’ play late into their 30’s at the very top echelons of the game.  

These players not only include Messi and Ronaldo, but also the only player to take a Balon d’Or away from the pair since Ronaldo first claimed the award, Luka Modric (37); and also, the most decorated footballer of all time, Dani Alves (39). 

Just to give context, other all-time greats such as: Johan Cruyff, Ferenc Puskas, Pele and Ronaldo Nazario all retired from international football at the age of 29 or 30, so it goes to show how much the game has evolved in recent times. 

Messi was quoted recently as saying: “This will be my last World Cup – for sure” to a South American journalist Sebastian Vignolo on his show ‘In First Person’. But he didn’t confirm whether or not it will be the end of his International career as a whole.  

Given their ages, it most probably would be their last World Cups at 35 and 37 respectively and they would be 41 and 39 by the time the 2026 World Cup in North America comes around – but you can’t ever write anything off when it comes to these two and football. 

“I don’t know what I will do after the World Cup. I am thinking about what is coming. After Qatar, I will have to reassess many things”, which doesn’t give much away and shows that not even he himself knows whether he will continue again or not.  

Regardless of if they retire from international football at the same time or not, their rivalry will always be known in football as the ultimate and most coveted rivalry in the sport and I’m sure will continue at the top club level for a couple more years yet. 

A key factor in my opinion on Messi’s future will come down to the success of Argentina at the World Cup. As we’ve seen with him retiring already once before, he can be very emotional and reactive when it comes to his beloved nation, and if they don’t perform, it very well could cause him to call it a day. 

However, it could also be motivation for the pair to keep going. If one were to win the World Cup with their nation and ‘settle the debate’, I’m sure the competitiveness of this rivalry would not want to allow the other get ‘one up on them’. 

Ronaldo has confirmed in interviews already as previously stated that this will be his last, but things can and do always change, especially when it comes to human emotions. 

With one European Championship and a Copa America a piece, the only thing left on the international scene is for one of them to win the World Cup. It really would be the icing on the cake for either of them. 

Both Messi and Ronaldo will be able to approach the tournament with great confidence. Messi has been in fine form this season playing the most minutes for Paris Saint Germain and has remained unbeaten this year with Argentina, winning seven games out of eight and drawing only once to a robust Ecuador. 

Meanwhile, Portugal have been in fine form this year, winning or drawing most of their games (five wins and one draw out of their eight games this year). Ronaldo at club level however hasn’t been able to hit the hights of his usual self of previous years, only starting four games out of 11 in all competitions for Manchester United. 

Fans should be excited this year, as they could finally face each other at the world cup in multiple different scenarios and could even match up in the final if they both win their groups and then of course, the rest of their knockout games.  

Their last ever World Cup, deciding the debate once and for all and giving the football fans what they’ve wanted to see for the last 10 or so years – Messi vs Ronaldo in a World Cup final. It could be written in the stars and I’m certainly hoping it is.  

What a way to finish this beautiful rivalry that would be.  

What do you think?