MADRID • Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have been locked in a duel for football's top individual and club honours for over a decade.
Despite the fierce rivalry that exists between the duo, there has always been respect at its core. And so it was to Messi's surprise that Real Madrid allowed Ronaldo to swop Spain for Italy in a deal worth €100 million (S$159 million) after securing a third consecutive European crown and his fourth in five years with Real.
The Barcelona talisman, who was taken aback by the Portuguese forward's move to Juventus, said his exit has made the European champions weaker - with the balance of power shifting towards the seven-time defending Italian champions.
"I was surprised," Messi told Catalunya Radio.
"I didn't imagine him leaving Madrid or that he would go to Juve because there was talk of many clubs (interested in him). The truth is that I was very surprised but Juve are also a very good team.
"Real are one of the best teams in the world and they have a great squad, but it's obvious the departure of Ronaldo makes them less strong, while Juve have become a clear favourite for the Champions League. They already had a good team and, now, they have Ronaldo."
Real's dominance in Europe has made failure even harder to swallow for Barcelona, whose shock defeat by Roma in April meant crashing out at the quarter-final stage for a third straight year.
Even winning the Spanish double of LaLiga, going unbeaten for the season, and the King's Cup was not enough to make up for the disappointment.
The Argentinian believes they can make amends this time but, first, they have to negotiate a tricky Group B comprising Tottenham, Inter Milan and PSV Eindhoven.
"It's time to win the Champions League," he said. "We've been knocked out in the quarter-finals three seasons in a row, and maybe the last one was the worst of all because of the result and how the match was played.
"We have to aim for that, as a club, as a team and as a collective. We have a spectacular squad and we can do it."
However, 13-time European champions Real will not relinquish their hold on the trophy that easily, even without Ronaldo.
The Club World Cup is another trophy Julen Lopetegui's men will want to win for a third successive year. The draw was made yesterday, with Real facing either Mexican side Guadalajara or the eventual Asian champions in the semi-finals in the United Arab Emirates in December.
Although it is often felt that European sides regard the event as little more than an exotic mid-season diversion, Real director Emilio Butragueno dismissed any suggestion it would be a walkover for his team.
"It's never easy to win any tournament, that's the truth," he said. "Obviously we have every confidence in our players. But our opponents are young players who see this tournament as a chance to get themselves known."
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS