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Cristiano Ronaldo's shot had barely slipped through David De Gea's fingers when the phone started to vibrate.

The messages were coming through, thick and fast.

"He's so lucky."

"Now Ronaldo looks good, doesn't he!"

No doubt many will have received or posted messages mocking Messi's failure to convert from the penalty spot, which contributed to Argentina' shock 1-1 draw against Iceland.

On Twitter, it was a similar story.

It seems, no matter where your club allegiances lie, which country you come from, football is viewed from one of two viewpoints.

One where Ronaldo is the world's best, and the one where Lionel Messi occupies the throne.

For most the concept of admiring both is an oxymoron. Whenever one enjoys success, supporters of the other have a list of caveats on hand dispelling why such achievements are less worthy than those of their preferred player.

How can Messi's devout followers dare show any admiration for a man who in many ways is the very antithesis of their idol?

Messi, forever the team player, blessed with exquisite touch and skill but with an equally brilliant eye for and execution of a pass, as opposed to Ronaldo, a glorified goal-sneak and penalty taker who is more athlete than footballer.

By the same token, those in the Ronaldo camp simply point to the Ballon D'Ors, the Champions League victories and Ronaldo's success across multiple leagues and on the international stage with Portugal as a European Championships winner in 2016.

How can Messi – a cog in a greater Barcelona machine – compare with Ronaldo who routinely carries his teams – both club and country – on his own bare shoulders to glory time and time again?

The silence from the Messi camp when Ronaldo sealed his hat-trick in Saturday morning's stunning 3-3 draw with pre-tournament favorites Spain with a sumptuous free-kick was deafening.

The two best players in the world might do battle year in, year out in Spain's La Liga and the UEFA Champions League, but the competition between the devout followers of Ronaldo and Messi is never fiercer than at the World Cup.

It is the holy grail for all footballers and it seems whoever claims it for their own first will win the argument over who's the best ever outright.

Perhaps it is my lifelong affinity with Manchester United that makes people assume I sit in the Ronaldo camp. 

Whenever Ronaldo excels, his detractors go out of their way to tell me why Messi is still better. I don't particularly care either way, but I admit, I do enjoy it when Ronaldo produces moments of brilliance that not even his biggest haters can deny.

Without doubt, I was completely enamoured by the fleet-footed Portuguese wing wizard in his time at Old Trafford.

He – almost single handedly – propelled Sir Alex Ferguson's team from domestic giants to European champions.

To this day, I read his list of ridiculous achievements at Real Madrid, I watch him play. and still I wish those goals and medals were scored and won in the red of United.

But none of this has ever come at the expense of admiration and sheer footballing ecstasy in watching Messi play.

I just can't fathom not enjoying a Messi masterclass because it fails to fit my narrative of who is the better player between the Argentine magician and the Portuguese powerhouse.

Messi is undoubtedly the footballing purist's choice. He brings so much more to his team than just goals and outrageous solo play. He is a visionary. He brings the vision and playmaking of Zinedine Zidane and combines it with the individual brilliance of Ronaldinho.

Ronaldo is a different beast.

Ronaldo is an exercise in self-perfection, perhaps out of necessity. One gets the sense the only way Ronaldo can compete with Messi is to be completely focused on himself. 

He just does not have the natural born talent of his Argentine foe and that much is obvious from comparisons of their younger careers.

Ronaldo was a prodigious talent, but his road to the top seemed far more strenuous than that of Messi.

Beyond that, he's THE footballing brand.

It looks like vanity – maybe it is – but there remains something to admire in watching a player will themselves into the very best they can be.

But if you think for a second that Messi did not watch on as Ronaldo willed his team to a point against Spain with one of the most outstanding individual performance at a World Cup final, then you should think again.

And that is the beauty of this footballing rivalry.

The brilliance of one spurs the envy of another.

It simply inspires the other to find a new level within them.

Perhaps it's football's greatest ever staring contest. Who will blink first?

As a football fan, it is a blessing to be alive and well to see it unfold, and it is a shame that so many only seem to be getting half the picture.

Of course, there's nothing wrong with debating who is better.

In that respect, Ronaldo has the edge over Messi on points. He has won major club trophies in England and Spain, including five Champions League triumphs – one more than that of Messi. He has more league goals to his name (Premier League and La Liga combined) and more Champions League goals than Messi and has achieved international success with Portugal where Messi has struggled with Argentina, despite playing in more major international finals.

One might argue Ronaldo is the better leader of men, too. His Portuguese team-mates seem inspired by his very presence, whereas Argentina at times seem to struggle with the burden of helping Messi to achieve what he seems destined to on the international stage.

A World Cup hat-trick against Spain is just the latest in what has been a remarkable three-year spell for Ronaldo, in which he seems to have finally turned the tide on his great rival.

The best part? Messi still has time for a right of reply.

Over to you, Lionel.


Categories: Opinion | People | Europe | World Cup

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