Russia 2018 offers Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi the final shot at World Cup success, writes former Bafana Bafana and AmaZulu striker George Dearnaley.
Fans of Argentina’s Diego Armando Maradona, or Brazil’s Edson Arientes Do Nascimento (Pele) might argue about this. Holland’s Johan Cruyff, or Northern Ireland’s George Best. Der Kaizer of Germany, Franz Beckenbauer? Or the French football god Zinedine Zidane? What about Ronaldinho, Zico or Garrincha?
Memories come flooding back when you mention these names.
But the supreme masters of their craft, the two gods who have bestrode the football world for the past decade and held off all challengers are getting older and soon will not be around to entertain us as we have become used to for the past 10-15 years.
Apart from a tackle here and a miskick there, they have pretty much performed at the highest level week in and week out and made a mockery of the laws of gravity and the aerodynamics of a football.
Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have divided the world like no other.
The discussion about Maradona and Pele was always tempered by the fact they were from different generations and never played against each other on a regular basis.
Who is better between Ronaldo and Messi?
Now that is a question that can be discussed until the cows come home.
Defenders will have an easier time without the lethal duo attempting, and usually succeeding, to put the ball into the net from every conceivable angle and with every technique known to man or alien.
But before Father Time can do his dirty work, there is the small matter of Russia 2018.
This is the last chance to witness the world’s greatest footballers fighting for the greatest prize.
Ronaldo turned 33 in February and will be closer to 38 at the next World Cup, in Qatar.
Messi still has a few more years in him and will turn 30 during the World Cup.
He will still feature in Qatar, but a lot can happen in four years.
Both players come into the World Cup on the back of outstanding seasons.
Messi’s Barcelona were unbeaten in La Liga halfway through April. Ronaldo has led Real Madrid to a third consecutive Champions League semi-final, breaking numerous records along the way.
Both are in form, injury free and scoring freely – hoping to claim a prize that could elevate them even further.
Messi’s Argentina are a better team, but have consistently failed to deliver. Ronaldo’s Portugal are the defending European Champions, but are reliant on the “Magician from Madeira.”
Whatever happens, I doubt we will again witness two players of such incredible ability and talent whose performances at the highest level have endured longer than most professional careers.
Russia 2018 promises to provide us with drama and excitement: the European heavyweights of Germany, England and Spain; the flash of samba from Brazil; three Nordic countries for the first time and four Arab countries, including Egypt and the irrepressible Mohamed Salah; five African countries that carry the hopes and prayers of the entire continent; and newcomers Panama and Ice-land, the latter the smallest country in terms of population size to ever qualify for the tournament.
You have a tournament that has everything (apart from Bafana)!
– This feature first appeared in the June issue of SoccerClub magazine