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2022 World Cup: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo set for one last dance

It does not take a genius to point out that the duopoly Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have had on football has come to an end. While both remain crucial players at some of Europe’s biggest clubs, the world awaits to see just how intense the rivalry between Kylian Mbappe and Erling Haaland can get, with hundreds of thousands of social media bots at the ready.


Still, there’s an element of romance in the idea that the 2022 World Cup in Qatar could be something of the last stand for two of the game’s all-time greats.


Ronaldo might speak of his desire to represent Portugal at Euro 2024 and certainly isn’t likely to be dropped anytime soon, although the struggles with which he desperately looked for a new home this summer would suggest his time as a leading force is over. A substitute with Manchester United these days, Ronaldo will be months off 40 by the time they start, potentially playing in a league many would have considered below him years ago.


As ever with Ronaldo, there are suggestions the team actually play better without him. Indeed, the Portuguese have been blessed with another golden generation of attacking talent, and perhaps this World Cup comes at a good time. With their greatest ever play still in the swing of things and backed by a star-studded cast, momentum could well be in their favour. In two years time, it’s hard to see how Ronaldo could start as a key player, and if he doesn’t, there’s the sideshow to consider.


While it’s hard to ever write Ronaldo off, this is surely the last chance for him as a crucial part of the set-up.


Messi, meanwhile, looks in a much better place on the international front, and that’s not something you could regularly say over the course of his career. Argentina might have liked to have played a higher quality of opposition between winning 2021’s Copa America and their first game in Qatar, but this is a team who have proven themselves in tournament football.


Certainly, they are not the attacking force of old, but perhaps that provides a better platform. In previous tournaments, Argentina have been far too easy to play against, carved open by more complex units who cared little for the stars on show at the opposite end of the field.


Having ended their wait for a major trophy, there’s a newfound confidence amongst the group with the team on a winning-streak that could soon overtake Italy’s run of 37 games. Naturally, more games against European opposition would have been welcome in order to prepare for the World Cup, but Argentina can only beat what’s in front of them.


To suggest Messi is now back to his best at Paris Saint-Germain would be foolish of course but something has certainly changed this season. Few would doubt his first year in the French capital was a huge disappointment, though there were plenty of mitigating factors in that.


Now, Messi is on a much higher level, albeit perhaps lower to the one he was operating at when dragging Argentina to the 2014 World Cup final. With a sturdier defence behind him and more focus on the team as a whole, the idea of Messi winning the game’s biggest prize is not as ridiculous as it may have been four years ago.


Mbappe reigned supreme at the last World Cup. By winning it, the Frenchman did something neither of his predecessors at the top of the game could manage and heralded in a new era of dominance.


Four years on, however, and there’s a chance past masters can indulge in one last dance.

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