Football: Lionel Messi gives the thumbs up to Ronaldo's goal-scoring prowess

MADRID (AFP) - Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi praised Cristiano Ronaldo's goal-poaching abilities in an interview published today as speculation mounted that the Portuguese international could be picked as World Player of the Year.

A day after picking up a Golden Boot award for scoring 46 league goals last season, more than any other player in Europe, the 26-year-old Messi paid respect to his Real Madrid rival.

"I don't know if Cristiano Ronaldo is at his peak but he is always there scoring goals in all the games and taking part in his club and national side," Messi told Spanish sports daily Marca and other European sports journalists.

"He has been doing that for many years and whether he is at his peak or a bit less makes no difference."

The 28-year-old Ronaldo is emerging as a favourite to pick up this year's Ballon d'Or for the world's best player over four-time winner Messi.

Ronaldo scored a hat-trick on Tuesday as Portugal qualified for their fourth straight World Cup and tops the Spanish league scoreboard so far this season with 16 goals in 13 matches.

Messi has 11 goals from eight games in the league this season but has been sidelined for up to eight weeks with a muscle tear in his left hamstring muscle.