It is possible that Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo-or both-exit the World Cup today, for Argentina play France and Portugal play Uruguay as the knockouts begin; they could also advance together, of course.
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Ronaldo is 33 years old, and Messi 31-meaning Russia is, realistically, their last chance to win the Cup. But what if they, or one of them, don’t? Does that automatically disqualify them from being the greatest?
The greats who haven’t:
Johan Cruyff: The player responsible for Total Football, the style of play that influenced Guardiola’s Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Spain, and even the Brazil team of early 80s. Yet the Dutchman never won a World Cup-the Netherlands lost to West Germany in 1974 World Cup final. He’s won 3 Ballon d’Or awards, 3 Uefa Best Player, and 3 European Champions Cup (club-level).
Michel Platini: The quintessential No.10 for France-he was the orchestrator, striker, free-kick specialist and the man in charge. He won three Ballon d’Ors in a row. But Platini’s France lost in 1982 and 1986 World Cup semis to West Germany-’86 was the year Maradona won the Cup for Argentina.
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Zico: The true inheritor to Pele (he was called ‘white Pele’). Also the greatest Brazilian to not have won the World Cup. Zico’s Brazil exited 1982 World Cup after a loss to Italy-who went on to win it.
And more: Ferenc Puskas, Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, Eusebio, Oliver Kahn …
Messi and Ronaldo are not vying for the tag of the greats of football; but for the greatest of all time (GOAT). That pits them against Pele and Maradona. Pele won three, and Maradona led Argentina to the epic 1986 triumph. Messi’s 2014 World Cup final, and Ronaldo’s 2016 Euro triumph pale in comparison.