2018 FIFA World Cup

Ronaldo-Messi debate goes far deeper than goals scored

ESPNFC’s Shaka Hislop reports for The Undefeated

Lionel Messi isn’t supposed to exit the 2018 FIFA World Cup at the group stage. Not with this Argentina side, which — on paper, at least to some pundits — was heralded as a favorite to win it all.

But 43,000 spectators witnessed a stunned Messi walking off the pitch Thursday, looking dejected and defeated, after Croatia blanked the Argentines 3-0.

The captain of his national team was hardly himself — certainly not the multi-goal scoring savior he was on the final day of qualifying to get his team through. Could Messi have been thinking about his rival Cristiano Ronaldo, who has dominated the World Cup with four goals in two games for Portugal? Maybe Messi has bigger problems, such as being haunted by the ghost of the great Diego Maradona.

Indeed, it’s been a disastrous Cup for Messi, who had just 20 touches in the first half, 49 in the game, and recorded a single shot on goal against Croatia. As for the comparisons to Ronaldo, Shaka Hislop, reporting for The Undefeated, believes it’s much bigger than that. “Ronaldo is able to play with a certain amount of freedom that Messi frankly doesn’t have because he’s already cemented his place as Portugal’s best-ever player. Whereas for Messi, it’s the complete opposite.”