David Lee in Russia: Farewell Messi, Ronaldo; World Cup stage now belongs to the likes of Mbappe, Lozano and Kane, and rightfully so

KAZAN - They have between them 14 league titles, nine Champions League crowns and 10 Ballon D'Or awards. But neither Lionel Messi nor Cristiano Ronaldo will have a World Cup to their name, possibly ever, after Argentina and Portugal lost their round of 16 matches on Saturday (June 30).

Perhaps now we can enjoy the World Cup without the distraction of the GOAT (Greatest Of All Time) debate or having to watch these two trying to single-handedly drag their teams over the line.

Unless you are Argentinian or Portuguese, there's no need to shed a tear for them because the spotlight will now deservedly be on the new wave of international superstars - 19-year-old Frenchman Kylian Mbappe sizzled with his pace and brace in the 4-3 win over Argentina, 22-year-old Mexican Hirving Lozano tore Germany apart, and 24-year-old Englishman Harry Kane is living up to his billing as the world's best No. 9 with five goals so far in this tournament.

Perhaps the artists who did the murals of Messi and Ronaldo will now paint over them with the faces of Eden Hazard and Philippe Coutinho, who could face off in the quarter-finals here in the Tatarstan capital.

And that is the way it should be, for football is never stagnant.

As the trio of Mbappe, Lozano and Kane have shown, it is also about teamwork, with France, Mexico, England and Uruguay (who beat Portugal 2-1) exemplifying good team spirit and even distribution of responsibility.

In Argentina and Portugal's case, their ageing and porous defence left Messi, 31, and Ronaldo, 33, with too much to do; Barcelona and Real Madrid are also dependent on these talismen but not so over-reliant unlike their national teams as the clubs are able to buy the right players to help the living legends shine.


Argentina, led by Lionel Messi (left), and Cristiano Ronaldo's Portugal were both knocked out of the World Cup. PHOTO: AFP

 

Make no mistake about it, their failure at the World Cup - both have still not scored in the knockout rounds in four editions and across a combined 1,270 minutes - does not diminish what they have achieved in other competitions.

Season after season, Messi is still a gravity-defying magician with the right assistants, while Ronaldo must be lauded for the diligence he has shown sculpting everything - from his physique to his pace, power and precision with the ball.

But with great power comes greater expectations to live up to, and for some, the inability to show up once every four years means Messi and Ronaldo will never be able to share a place with, much less overtake, Pele and Diego Maradona in the pantheon of football greats.