For much of the last two decades, they have been regarded as the two greatest players in football, stars of a wonderful era in the beautiful game. But now firmly in the twilight of their illustrious careers, and beyond the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, will there be an international future for Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo?
Both of these wonderful players has managed to win continental tournaments, whilst representing their countries, yet the biggest prize on the global international stage continues to elude them. Let’s take a look at how their influence could shape the destiny of their nations, during what might very well be the World Cup swansong for Messi and Ronaldo.
For many fans in Argentina, the ‘Greatest of All Time’ will be none other than Diego Maradona, due to his virtuoso role in leading the country to World Cup success in 1986. Messi finished as a runner-up in 2014, leading to speculation he would never lift aloft the iconic golden trophy, although winning the 2021 Copa America did manage to lift some of those doubts.
The first objective for Argentina this year will be to top Group C, which might seem fairly comfortable on paper, yet could be filled with plenty of perils and potential pitfalls. For one thing, they will face the firepower of Poland with Robert Lewandowski, the man who has now replaced Messi as the stellar attacking force at Barcelona.
Due to playing in their home region at the 2022 World Cup, the potential for Saudi Arabia to become dark horses must not be underestimated. Likewise, nobody should ever dismiss the potential of Mexico, as they are always capable of causing upsets. If they can lead Group C, then Argentina could avoid facing France in the Round of 16.
Messi has dropped hints at international retirement after the World Cup, which inevitably makes his role with Argentina more important than ever before. One last throw of the dice before deciding to say “Adios!” to his national team.
From a personal perspective, some of Ronaldo’s greatest achievements have come with his country. He was hugely inspirational as Portugal won the 2016 UEFA European Championship, then conquered the first edition of the UEFA Nations League in 2019. He also established the world record for international goals, which currently stands at 117 and counting.
Despite boasting what has become a guarantee of goals from Ronaldo, there are lingering doubts about how far Portugal can go, heading into the 2022 World Cup. On paper, the opposition in Group H would seem comfortably beatable, coming in the shape of Ghana, Uruguay, and South Korea.
Yet on their day, any one of those three sides are more than capable of beating Portugal, should Ronaldo and his teammates not remain entirely focused, as they seek to top Group H and progress to the Round of 16. Doing so would help them to potentially avoid facing Brazil, who are expected to top Group G, and would face the runners-up from Group H.
By the time Ronaldo concludes his participation at the 2022 World Cup, he will almost be 38 years of age. Unless he fancies emulating Cameroon icon Roger Milla, who was 42 at the USA 1994 World Cup, it seems unlikely that CR7 will be around for the next North American hosted tournament in 2026.
What the bookies think
Given this is the first World Cup ever to be held in the Middle East, the frenzy of wagering activity has already begun. Mindful of this, Arabian Betting has produced an extensive 2022 World Cup betting guide, focusing on where to find the broadest selection of markets, along with focus on which online bookies are offering the best promotions.
Brazil are the clear outright winner favourites, despite not having won the tournament since 2002, although they will clearly always be a force to be reckoned with. But insofar as the leading challengers are concerned, oddsmakers genuinely fancy France to defend the title they won in 2018, and England could be capable of ending more than half a century of hurt.
Interestingly, following a stellar start to the 2022-23 season with PSG, the form of Messi has inspired growing confidence in Argentina, whose odds have been trimmed in recent weeks. The same can’t be said for Portugal, however, largely due to Ronaldo cutting an unsettled figure at Manchester United. Nevertheless, the fortunes of both nations will rest squarely on the shoulders of these two iconic players.
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