So, farewell to the G.O.A.T and the Goatee. The Russia 2018 World Cup will make do without football’s MVP trophy-grabbing duopoly of Argentina’s Lionel Messi and Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo, after the pair were eliminated on the first day of the Round of 16 today.
Messi’s return ticket was booked at around midday, after Argentina were on the wrong side of a 4-3 thriller with France. Ronaldo got his own ticket home a few hours later—just to keep an eye on his close rival, you see.
Almost certainly, neither will ever lift a World Cup trophy.
Messi will be 35 when Qatar 2020 comes around, which is a ripe age for a footballer but still, theoretically, doable. Yet surely he will be too old to tote an entire country on his back by then—even if he still wanted to represent a FA that hired a nightclub bouncer as head coach.
Ronaldo—who is probably shaving his ‘good luck goatee’ as we speak—will be 37 in 2020 but probably in supreme condition. Still, as actor Will Ferrell can tell you, it’s not much fun being Megamind when Metro Man has retired. So who knows if he will fancy another go.
So if it is time to start looking for a new global star, then France teenager Kylian Mbappé could not have chosen a better day to put forward his CV, as he tore into the Argentina defence like a plate of macaroni pie and callaloo after a hard day’s work.
Fast, skilful and audacious, the 19 year old Frenchman—his father is Cameroonian and his mother, Algerian—became only the second teenager to score twice in a World Cup match since the legendary Brazilian, Pelé, at the 1958 edition.
“Let’s put things in context: Pelé is another category,” said Mbappé, after this match, “but it’s good to be among these people.”
At the end of the contest, Mbappe returned to the field to share a hug with Messi. And it was probably the only time an Argentine was able to get hold of him all day.
Yet La Albiceleste played their part in an enthralling encounter and even led at one stage, albeit a bit fortuitously. The porous South American defence could not live with the direct pace of the European outfit in the end though.
The game was just 11 minutes old when the pacy Mbappé torched opposing playmaker Ever Banega and left back Nicolás Tagliafico, before being bundled over by Marcos Rojo. Rojo’s foul actually happened outside the area but the pair were still entangled when the France forward hit the ground inside the box.
And Antoine Griezmann made no mistake from the spot.
Argentina had most of the possession but had not really threatened, before Angel Di Maria belied his forgettable start to the match with a stunning 30 yard strike into the far corner to equalise.
And La Albiceleste must have thought God was smiling on them when a Messi shot was deflected in by right back Gabriel Mercado, to put the South Americans ahead in the 47th minute.
The advantage lasted just 10 minutes, before France right back Benjamin Pavard thumped home another cracking shot from the edge of the area. And then Mbappé showed his own predatory instinct with a fine double, which again made the Argentine backline look as though they had cement in their boots.
Sampaoli sent on Sergio Aguero, who he has not started since the gifted striker made a snide remark at his expense after their 3-0 loss to Croatia. And Aguero halved the deficit with a close range header off a Messi cross. But by then, the fat lady was already on her closing stanza.
In today’s second outing, Ronaldo never looked like having better luck than his close rival. And they didn’t deserve it either.
Seven minutes into the match, Uruguay forward Edinson Cavani played a long cross-field ball to Luis Suarez and then ran 50 yards to head home uncontested off the latter’s return cross.
Cavani had 44 international goals at that point. Just over a quarter of them were directly assisted by Suarez.
Didn’t see that coming, Portugal? Really? It was like being slapped by a man with one hand.
Pepe pulled Portugal back on level terms with a header from a set piece in the 55th minute. But Cavani decided the match with a fine finish in the 62nd minute—at least this time, Suarez was not involved.
There was a touching moment in the 70th minute when Ronaldo helped a limping Cavani off the field to get medical treatment. But it was the only thing Ronaldo pulled off for the whole match.
By the final whistle, the great Messi and Ronaldo again shared an extraordinary record. Both played in four World Cups without ever scoring a goal in the knockout round.
For Messi, that drought stretched to just over 756 minutes. It was 514 barren minutes for Ronaldo.
Brazilian wizard, Neymar, who is considered to be the player best equipped to take the baton from the ageing geniuses, got a knockout goal at his first World Cup in 2014. And he would hope to add to that tally on Monday when Brazil meet Mexico in the Round of 16.
But Neymar’s PSG teammate, Mbappé, has two World Cup knockout goals now.
Neymar, sensationally, left Barcelona for PSG last year in an effort to escape Messi’s long shadow at the Spanish giants. But if Mbappé keeps this up, the Brazilian would struggle to hog the headlines in Ligue 1 as well.
Maybe a new duopoly is on the horizon. PSG might not be big enough for those two ‘bo rats’.
World Cup 2018
Round of 16
(Saturday 30 June)
France 4 (Antoine Griezmann 13 pen, Benjamin Pavard 57, Kylian Mbappe 64, 67), Argentina 3 (Angel Di Maria 41, Gabriel Mercado 47, Sergio Aguero 90+3), Kazan;
Uruguay 2 (Edinson Cavani 7, 62), Portugal 1 (Pepe 55), Sochi;
(Sunday 1 July)
Spain v Russia, 10am, Moscow;
Croatia v Denmark, 2pm, Nizhny Novgorod;
(Monday 2 July)
Brazil v Mexico, 10am, Samara;
Belgium v Japan, 2pm, Rostov-On-Don;
(Tuesday 3 July)
Sweden v Switzerland, 10am, St Petersburg;
Colombia v England, 2pm, Moscow.
(Friday 6 July)
France v Uruguay, Nizhny Novgorod;
Brazil/Mexico v Belgium/Japan, Kazam;
(Saturday 7 July)
Spain/Russia v Croatia/Denmark, Sochi;
Sweden/Switzerland v Colombia/England, Samara.