Qatar World Cup marks last dance for Messi and Ronaldo21 May 2022
AFP, Paris :
As the football world prepares to head to Qatar in six months' time, this World Cup is set to bookend the era in which Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been the sport's two pre-eminent players.
At the time, it felt like the 2018 tournament in Russia marked a turning point as a teenage Kylian Mbappe became a global superstar by helping France become world champions.
Mbappe consoling Messi after starring as France beat Argentina in the last 16 was an iconic image of that World Cup.
Fast forward to the present and Mbappe and Messi are team-mates at Paris Saint-Germain.
Still just 23, the future certainly belongs to Mbappe, who has eclipsed the Argentine at his club this season and has PSG, Real Madrid and football fans the world over on tenterhooks awaiting an announcement on where he will play next season.
Meanwhile, even if they are now on the wane, Messi and Ronaldo will go to Qatar hoping to seize surely their last chance to lift a World Cup, the one glaring omission from the CV of each.
These are the players who have between them won 12 of the last 13 editions of the Ballon d'Or-Messi won his seventh last year.
Both have won a continental title with their national team, but neither has quite lit up a World Cup in the way they would have hoped.
This will be Messi's fifth World Cup. He was 18 when he scored on his tournament debut in 2006. He inspired Argentina to the 2014 final, which they lost to Germany.
Yet, incredibly, he has never scored in a World Cup knockout match. All of his six goals have come in the group stage.
He will be 35 by the time Argentina play Saudi Arabia in their opening game on November 22.
"I am going to have to reassess a lot of things after the World Cup, whether it goes well for us or not," Messi admitted in March.
"I hope it goes well, but a lot of things are definitely going to change."
Ronaldo has also played at four World Cups and last year broke the international scoring record held by Iran's Ali Daei, but he has never managed a goal in the knockout rounds either.
The Portugal captain will be nearly 38 at the end of this year, yet he remains in impressive physical shape and still scored 24 goals for Manchester United this season.
"I will be the one to decide, nobody else," he insisted in March when asked if this could be his last World Cup.
Improved diets and advances in sports science mean more players now are extending their careers at the very top well into their 30s.