In the battle of the No. 7s, round one went to Cristiano Ronaldo in the Champions League final. Is today payback time for Antoine Griezmann?

Cristiano Ronaldo: Team and solo glory at stake for captain

The stage is set for Cristiano Ronaldo to rise to the occasion and fire Portugal to their first tournament win, while giving himself a tilt at another Ballon d'Or title.
The stage is set for Cristiano Ronaldo to rise to the occasion and fire Portugal to their first tournament win, while giving himself a tilt at another Ballon d'Or title.PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS • For so much of Cristiano Ronaldo's majestic career, he has battled with Lionel Messi, often unsuccessfully, to be considered the greatest player in the world.

If history ultimately judges the finest talents by their achievements on the international stage, where neither player has tasted success, then the Portuguese captain could use tonight's Euro 2016 final - his first international final since Euro 2004, when Portugal lost to Greece - to land a haymaker blow in one of football's great rivalries.

"Euro 2004 was special - I was just 19 and it was my first tournament," he said. "Now we are in the final again and we hope we will win it. I hope we'll be smiling and that it will be tears of joy in the end."

Ronaldo has overcome rumblings of discontent at the tournament, with his form and attitude subjected to microscopic analysis, to lead his side into a showpiece finale where they will face France.

Should he end the occasion holding aloft the trophy, it would not only crown a remarkable career, but it would perhaps also settle once and for all a debate that has divided fans across the world.

Ronaldo and Messi have been jostling for the World Player of the Year title for years, often with little to separate them in the scoring charts or their trophy cabinets.

They have hoovered up eight Ballon d'Or titles between them (Messi five, Ronaldo three) and been the cause of innumerable arguments among fans and pundits who have picked over their various merits.

Yet neither has led their country to glory in a continental or World Cup tournament. A rivalry that stretches back a decade and includes two of the world's biggest clubs in Ronaldo's Real Madrid and Messi's Barcelona, could be about to witness a defining moment.

When Messi's Argentina failed to beat Chile in last month's Copa America final it proved too heavy a blow for the diminutive playmaker, who announced his international retirement in the aftermath.

A multiple trophy winner with Barcelona, Messi had been part of four final defeats with the national team, three in the Copa America plus the 2014 World Cup in Brazil.

Fast forward a few weeks and tonight's final offers Ronaldo an opportunity to stamp his authority decisively on the debate.

Victory against France would elevate him into a pantheon of greats who have tasted international glory. Pele, Diego Maradona, Zinedine Zidane, and Michel Platini all claimed international trophies to cement their standing as the best of their generations.

It is a list that Ronaldo would no doubt like to join and he is coming into form right on cue.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 10, 2016, with the headline 'Cristiano Ronaldo: Team and solo glory at stake for captain'. Print Edition | Subscribe