FIFA World Cup 2018: Back in 2006, the likes of Ronaldo (Brazil), Figo (Portugal) and Zidane (France) donned their respective national jerseys for one last time for the World Cup. The (in) famous headbutt by the French international was the highlight of the tournament. Amid the headline-grabbing incident, there was a passing of the baton at Germany 2006. Ronaldo and Messi were chosen to be the heir of that archaic generation.
The realm of football for past 11 years has been dominated by these two legends. But, the story of this World Cup has been different. After a decade of duopoly by Messi and Ronaldo, a new wave of superstars have broken through to claim their place at the summit of the global game.
Both the Ballon d’Or winners had exited the tournament at the round of 16. The Portuguese and Argentine strikers had their moments of brilliance – Ronaldo’s hat trick against Spain and Messi’s startling goal against Nigeria. However, when the story of Russia WC reaches its end, they will be nothing more than support actors in a cult thriller.
The new kids in town have taken the centre stage in Russia. The likes of Kylian Mbappe, Aleksandr Golovin, and Harry Kane have been expectional for their countries. Although Neymar was the main attraction for Brazil, it was Philippe Coutinho who played a pivotal role in the Selecaos FIFA World Cup journey.
Fans have suddenly moved out of the Messi-Ronaldo shadow and are all set to embrace their new heroes in the face of Mbappe, Coutinho, Golovin, Kane and others. This suggests that after an 11-year long stretch the world might finally see a new Ballon d’Or winner.
The last time a player had managed to overpower Messi and Ronaldo was in 2007 when Kaka lifted the coveted trophy. Ronaldo had finished second while Messi finished third. And so was it.
Since then, the two GOATs have shared the Ballon d’Or among themselves. But with them failing to go beyond the pre-quarterfinals in Russia might make it difficult for them to grab a sixth.
Mo Salah was a potential candidate for the trophy, but with Egypt exiting at the group stage and the injury in Champions League final has slimmed his chances.
Yes, Ronaldo played an important role in Real Madrid’s third successive Champions League title scoring 15 goals in the tournament. And, Messi also played a significant role in Barcelona’s La Liga success, emerging as the ‘Pichichi’ winner with 34 goals.
But, in a World Cup year, both of their grips are vulnerable, especially with the likes of Mbappe leading his team to the holy grail on July 15 at Moscow.
Messi won the 2010 Ballon d’Or, ahead of World Cup winners Andres Iniesta and Xavi. Ronaldo claimed the prize four years later ahead of Messi and Germany’s World Cup-winning German goalkeeper Manuel Neuer. So, nothing can be ruled out.
Antoine Griezmann can also be a silent killer. The French forward has not been oozing goals but was a major factor in Les Bleus win against Belgium (semis) and Uruguay (quarters).
One cannot count out Eden Hazard, Kevin De Bruyne and Romelu Lukaku too. The three Belgian superstars had run riot against Brazil. The magician Kevin De Bruyne also played an important role in Manchester City’s dominance in the last season. Putting into the mix is Luka Modric. The Croatian talisman played a key role for Real Madrid’s Champions League triumph and has been the directing force for his national side in Russia.
For too long, it has only been about Ronaldo vs Messi, but this World Cup has signalled the Winds of Change. If they miss out on the Ballon d’Or, it will be a seismic moment for the game.