The general consensus in world football is that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are the two best players.
It’s a theory based around their incredible goal records for Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively, as well as two quite unique styles of play.
Messi is slight and small, but has incredible ball control and deceptive pace. Throw into the mix passing accuracy and an eye for goal, and you have a pretty decent player.
Ronaldo has more of a physical edge, and an aerial presence that his Argentine counter-part doesn’t. More direct with silky skills and blistering acceleration, ‘CR7’ has a cannon of a shot and an eye for the spectacular. Messi goes about his business much more subtly.
Both players have cemented their legacy already in domestic football, but on the international stage it’s a different story.
When you think of the very best players, the greatest of the great – Pele, Maradona, Beckenbauer – they are all defined by achievements for their country rather than a club.
Maradona’s achievements at Napoli, for example, pale into insignificance when you take into account his World Cup exploits with Argentina.
The same is true of Beckenbauer, a legend with Bayern Munich but remembered for his international exploits in ’72 and ’74 with West Germany.
That’s where Messi and Ronaldo currently fall down.
Whilst the 24-year-old Argentinean has an Olympic Gold Medal to his name, failure at two World Cups and two Copa Americas – including one in his homeland – are the main features behind his time on the international stage.
For Ronaldo, it’s much the same after coming so close at Euro 2004 before losing to Greece. Disappointing showings since then have only served to raise more questions over his potential greatness.
However, the 27-year-old could well be about to change that, with Portugal in the quarter-finals of Euro 2012 and looking dangerous. After a close defeat to Germany on the opening night in Group B, Paulo Bento’s side have got better in wins over Denmark and Holland.
Finding form at the right time is key at major championships, and just like his country, Ronaldo delivered his best performance so far against the Dutch, scoring twice in the 2-1 win that secured a place in the last eight.
With the Czech Republic now lying in wait, Ronaldo has a realistic chance of firing his nation to the semi-finals. From that stage onwards, anything can happen – as Greece showed in 2004.
The Golden Boot won’t be far from the Real Madrid player’s mind either, with that double six days ago moving Ronaldo level with a host of players in second-place for that particular honour.
With 93-caps for his country, the former Sporting Lisbon starlet has given plenty for his country over the past nine years, with little in return with regards to support.
This year, things could be different, with a supporting cast of Luis Nani, Silvestre Varela, Raul Meireles and Joao Moutinho all looking to get in on the act as well.
There is no denying that Ronaldo is the superstar though, the ace in the Portuguese pack who all the other players look to for inspiration and a moment of magic.
For his club, Ronaldo has always delivered that. Now, he has a chance to do it for his country, and in the process take a giant leap towards the tag of world football’s greatest player.
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