The first day of the 2018 FIFA World Cup Round of 16 stage displayed a frustrating moment in the careers of two of the most relevant football players of recent history. Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo left the competition, leaving their international careers with the pertaining continental aspirations.
In Kazan, Argentina wasn’t able to come through and continue their aspirations in their matchup with France. A penalty, which was converted into a goal by Antoine Griezmann in the 13th minute, wasn’t going to be the only writing on the scoreboard. Argentinian efforts spontaneously took the lead with a 2-1 score in the 41st and 48th minutes, but Les Bleus decided to get more out of the bout.
Kylian Mbappé tailored two goals after a beautiful 57th minute volley by 22-year-old Benjamin Pavard had balanced the matters. Now at 4-2, the scoreboard seemed to tire the Argentinians with panic and hopelessness. Regardless of a third goal by Sergio Aguero, the Lionel Messi-captained side was forced to accept a 4-3 loss.
Four hours later and about 1,200 miles away in Sochi, Uruguay secured their quarterfinals appearance with a 2-1 win against Portugal. Uruguay opened the scoring in the 7th minute with a flying header by Edinson Cavani.
Carrying an unlevelled 1-0 to the dressing rooms, the Portuguese came back in the second half able to net one in the 55th minute, setting a balanced mood for the match which now could go any direction. While successfully extinguishing any of Ronaldo’s attempts to give the advantage to the Iberians, the Uruguayans made way so that the 62nd minute would belong to Cavani. With an intelligent strike from outside the penalty area, the Uruguayan left Rui Patrício unable to defend his goal, no matter how far his gloves reached out.
Even though a narrow score of 2-1 could speak in the advantage of either side, the Portuguese were unable to create from their midfield, and even more so to finish in the front. Cristiano Ronaldo captained the losing side, ending his pursuit for the most important trophy a football player can hold in front of the world.
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As any football fan would have to admit, these losses handicap the important aspect of international football for the two most dominating forces of the last ten years. With club and personal achievements put aside, international successes have been often used as the tipping point of the balance in the rivalry. On Saturday, they achieved the same result: elimination.
Where does this leave them with in terms of the international stage, and what does this loss leave us with in the current FIFA tournament?
The defending UEFA Euro 2016 champion, Portugal, captained by C. Ronaldo, have the Euro 2020 competition to look forward to. Even though aged 35, Madeira’s hero will have a chance to defend the title, or at least prove to have weight on the international stage with his national team.
Considered to be the deal-breaker of the Ronaldo-Messi conversation, the absence of the Copa América trophy on Messi’s shelf now weighs more than the absence of the World Cup trophy. The Brazilian 2019 edition of the CONMEBOL will be the last chance for the 5-foot-7 football giant to even out matters for his exceptional legacy, as his European counterpart already lifted his continental trophy in the Euro 2016 competition.
As far as the audience is concerned, although the two household names won’t be screamed by announcers for the rest of the competition, there’s an array of talent to look forward to. Griezmann and Mbappé’s confidence in finishing, Neymar’s quest for glory, Hazard and Lukaku’s attempt for the Euro 2016 redemption are only half of this year’s bracket. With six matches to come, this Round of 16 will end on Tuesday, most likely on the spectra of surprise, domination, and heartbreak.
Mbappé Photo: thestatesman.com
Cavani Photo: okdiario.com
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