A strange thing happened the other night. Lionel Messi scored his first World Cup goal.
It felt surreal – was he one of the greatest players of all time? Well, he didn’t have a guest, or Cristiano Ronaldo.
But if the rest of the events follow, prepare Ronaldo to change today against Switzerland.
For when one of them does something, the other tends to suit. Ever since the pair burst onto the scene in the late 2000s, they’ve been locked in a ball game of “Anything you can do, I can do better.”
Athletic It takes you through a glorious era, showing how two of the world’s greatest players have relentlessly pushed themselves to new records, trophies, and gloriously entertaining moments.
2006: First World Goals
The 2006 World Cup kicked off in Germany, and Argentina began their Group C campaign with a 2-1 victory over Côte d’Ivoire.
The 18-year-old Messi was selected to start the second game against Serbia & Montenegro, and the Barcelona youth grabbed his first World Cup goal on his tournament debut to cap a 6-0 haul.
One day later, in Group D, Portugal played their second group game against Iran. They won 2-0, with 21-year-old Ronaldo scoring his first World Cup goal.
2007-09: winning the Ballon d’Or
After scoring 31 goals in the 2007-08 Premier League season as Manchester United retained the title, won the Champions League with eight more goals, and contributed another four in Portugal to the 2008 Champions League quarter-finals, Ronaldo’s first Ballon d’ December.
That season also included the first meetings between Messi and Ronaldo on the pitch – when Alex Ferguson’s team were edged past Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona 1-0 on aggregate in the Champions League semi-final.
The award ceremony took place just before half-time during Pep Guardiola’s 2008-09 debut season in charge of Barcelona. In the end, Guardiola’s side lifted the treble, thanks to a combined 57 goals and assists from Messi.
The last of those goals was fittingly a 70th-minute header against Ronaldo’s United in the Champions League final in Rome.
After taking away the League trophy, six months later Messi also beat Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or, winning it for the first time seven times in the next 12 years.
2010: Leaders to the World Cup
Four years after losing to hosts Germany on penalties in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup, Argentina kicked off in South Africa under the management of Diego Maradona, the player who led them to the 1986 tournament to win and finish runners-up. until 1990. The 22-year-old Messi led his national team to a 1-0 opening victory over Nigeria.
Three days and a year after completing his world record 80 million move to Real Madrid from United, Ronaldo also wore the armband against Côte d’Ivoire in a game that ended 0-0.
Neither man progressed further than the quarter finals when Spain lifted the trophy, but after acclimatising to Spanish football, the Real Madrid No 7 took his game to a new level in 2010-11…
2010-12: Most goals in La Liga
Ronaldo scored 53 club goals across all competitions in 2010-11. In La Liga, he was 40 in 34, the Spanish league with the most goals in a broken season.
This record has stood for 60 years, but in the next La Liga season, Ronaldo topped his new record with 46 goals … and Messi did better, with 50 goals plus 19 assists.
As a measure, Messi’s 14 goals in the 2011-12 Champions League were enough to equal the record for most goals in a single season in that competition, in his previous European Cup form.
Back-to-back hat tricks
Now a Premier League, La Liga and Champions League winner, Ronaldo began 2013-14 in superb form, scoring a technical goal on the opening day of the Champions League against Galatasaray. He sealed the 6-1 win, leaving two defenders in the dust and curling a left-footed shot into the far corner.
With Carlo Ancelotti in charge of the Bernabeu, Madrid’s first Champions League colors looked to be in Ronaldo’s hands.
But just a day later, Barcelona moved to the Camp Nou pitch for Ajax in their first match. Messi put a card on his table with his caper, which included one of his first sensational free kicks.
Seven years ago today, Lionel Messi scored a unique, special trick against Ajax.pic.twitter.com/83zaKi5DrD
– GOAL (@goal) September 18, 2020
Obscene behavior was followed by records…
Since that time, Real Madrid has met with steam in la Decima and ended the meeting with city neighbors Atletico in the final. With a penalty in the final minutes of extra time to make it 4-1, Ronaldo scored his 17th goal of that Champions League campaign, equaling Messi’s previous record two seasons ago.
In La Liga, Real Madrid and Barcelona finished on 87 points, but Atletico were crowned champions, three points ahead.
Another genuine contender in the mix, the Clasico rivals of the previous levels; Messi and Ronaldo certainly responded, assisting 129 La Liga goals between them in 2014-15.
The key highlight came in December. A 29-year-old Ronaldo scored his 100th La Liga goal in (another) prone-trick, this one against Celta Vigo. The following day, Barcelona faced Espanyol in the Catalan derby. Messi is back with his hat-trick, the 27-year-old has also reached 200 La Liga goals in 182 games since Ronaldo came to Spain.
A thousand goals
In a crowning international consummation, Ronaldo led Portugal to their first major trophy – beating hosts France in the Euro 2016 final.
The tournament came after another very competitive year for Ronaldo and Messi.
In late January, Messi scored an equalizer in a 2-1 away win against Atletico. It was revealed that within 24 hours, he and Ron had matched their goals for 1,000 runs exactly. Ronaldo then took that number to 1,003 when he scored half-time in the 6-0 demolition of Espanyol the following day.
When Barcelona left for another La Liga title, their sixth in eight years, Messi scored his seventh La Liga goal in 16 months, against Rayo Vallecano in a 5-1 win on March 3. The spotlight lasted two days, before Ronaldo. scored four in a 7-1 demolition of Celta Vigo.
Cristiano Ronaldo @rccelta_oficial:
– Real Madrid CF (@realmadriden) January 17, 2017
He won the Champions League again that season, Madrid’s first three in a row under Zinedine Zidane. That, combined with Portugal’s silver medal triumph, was enough for Ronaldo to go for the 2016 Ballon d’Or – his fourth.
Barcelona, meanwhile, crashed out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals, a painful practice in the years since their most recent win in 2014-15.
Messi started the 2016-17 edition of the competition on fire, scoring goals in his first two group games against Celtic and Manchester City, which is the record in the history of the competition with seven (he and Ronaldo were previously tied with five).
– UEFA Champions League (@ChampionsLeague) October 19, 2022
Remarkably, Ronaldo scored two Champions League goals in his season. The first against Bayern Munich in the quarter-final tie, and the second against Atletico in the first leg of the semi-final, making sure that he equaled the league record Messi had managed five months earlier. (They are now tied with eight each).
What a goal!
Some time, as Messi scored one of the best goals of the year. His free-kick against Atletico on March 4, 2018 was sublime, with Jan Oblak making a flurry through his line to narrowly miss a shot that curled into the top corner.
Lionel Messi free kick for us Atleti … from every angle incredible! 📽💫 pic.twitter.com/YmKAS81c3q
— English LaLiga (@LaLigaEN) on March 6, 2018
One month later, against Juventus in the quarter-finals of the Champions League, Ronaldo responded. His overhead kick remains one of the best goals in the history of the competition.
O. MY WORD!
Cristiano ronaldo with a criminal overhead kick!
Crazy! 👏👏👏 pic.twitter.com/PYtT0uRTQ9
– Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) April 3, 2018
The twilight years
The highlight of Ronaldo’s 2018-19 debut season with Juventus came in the Champions League. After losing the first leg 2-0 to old enemies Atletico Madrid in the round of 16, the Portuguese once again scored another hat-trick in Turin, beating the Italian club by 3-2 on aggregate.
Barcelona had some quieter whispers of doubt about their chances of reaching the next eight that season, as Ernesto Valverde’s team played against Lyon the following night. The French side had held Barcelona 0-0 in the first leg, and so it was Messi’s turn to take over. He scored two and assisted two more as Barcelona ran them 5-1 at Camp Nou.
A Messi night Lyon Barcelona.
Two important goals
Two perfect helps
Lionel Messi is not from this planet pic.twitter.com/X2APVQuHEe
– Football on BT Sport (@btsportfootball) March 14, 2019
As Ronaldo and Messi move deeper into their thirties, the days of monstrous self-effacement and goals finally seem to be coming to an end.
The 2019-20 Champions League round of 16 saw Juventus lose to Lyon, despite the best efforts of Ronaldo, who scored two goals in the second leg that included a 25-yard strike. A few days later, Messi produced one of his mystical goals when half of Napoli’s defense looked incompetent, and shot through the ball and into the bottom corner in a 3-1 quarter-final victory.
Leading international goalscorer
In September of last year, Ronald became the top scorer of all temporary nations, reaching 111 goals in Portugal after conceding twice against the Republic of Ireland.
It took Messi a full week this season to make similar headlines himself, Argentina’s 79th goal, making him the all-time leading goalscorer for the South American international.
If Ronaldo plays against Switzerland in the 16th round of the World Cup, it will probably be the last time we see him steal one bow from another, as Messi has already led Argentina to the quarter-finals in Qatar. Perhaps we are beginning to realize how fortunate we have been to experience the past 15 years.
(Top image: Sam Richardson)