Past World Cup Performances

by Vinay Kshirsagar

Though they have met countless times as club rivals in El Clasico, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi have never met in the three World Cups in which they have so far participated. It may not ever happen, as both Portugal and Argentina must each advance from the group stage to meet in the knockout stages of Russia 2018. But in three World Cups they have shared the overall stage, each making an impressive first mark on the tournament and then continuing to build their legacies. We compare performances and general storylines for both players in Germany 2006, South Africa 2010, and Brazil 2014.


Germany 2006

South Africa 2010

Brazil 2014

See Messi’s Copa America history

See Ronaldo’s Euro history

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World Cup 2006 – Germany


Group Stage

Argentina 2-1 Cote D’Ivoire

  • DNP

Argentina 6-0 Serbia and Montenegro

  • 75’ substitute (3-0)
  • 88’ goal (6-0)
  • became youngest [3]

Netherlands 0-0 Argentina

  • Started
  • 70’ Subbed off

Argentina won Group C with 7 points.

Round of 16

Argentina 2-1 Mexico (extra time)

  • 84’ minute substitute (1-1)
  • 19th birthday! What a present


Germany 1-1 (4-2) Argentina

  • DNP


Storylines: Messi’s first World Cup. Became the youngest player to represent Argentina in the World Cup, aged almost 19. Was not played against Germany in their penalty shootout loss to Germany, the eventual 3rd place team. There is of course controversy and debate about this decision, for which the coach Jose Pekerman is responsible. [4]

Overall Stats: 3 appearances (1 start), 1 goal, 1 assist [1][2]


Group Stage

Angola 0-1 Portugal

  • Started
  • 60’ subbed off

Portugal 2-0 Iran

  • Started
  • 80’ goal (penalty)

Portugal 2-1 Mexico

  • DNP

Portugal won Group D with 9 points.

Round of 16

Portugal 1-0 Netherlands (aka the Battle of Nuremberg)


England 0-0 (1-3) Portugal


Portugal 0-1 France

  • Started

3rd Place game

Germany 3-1 Portugal

  • Started


Storylines: Ronaldo’s first world cup. He was at the center of much controversy (in England at least) due to his (alleged) role in the sending off of Wayne Rooney. After the sending off, the cameras caught the quickest of Ronaldo winks directed at the Portugal bench. What does this mean? Only he knows.

Overall Stats: 6 appearances, 1 goal. [1][2][5]

World Cup 2010 – South Africa

At this point, both players were stars. Assume they started each game unless otherwise stated.


Group Stage

Argentina 1-0 Nigeria

Argentina 4-1 Korea Republic

Greece 0-2 Argentina

  • Captained Argentina squad with Mascherano resting.

Argentina won Group B with 9 points.

Round of 16

Argentina 3-1 Mexico

  • Assist to unfairly counted offside goal


Argentina 0-4 Germany


Storylines: Coached by Diego Maradona, an Argentine soccer legend himself. Obviously comparisons have been made between Maradona and Messi. Messi was nominated for the Golden Ball (player of the tournament). He was sort of expected to carry the team to glory, but was unable.


Overall stats: 4 appearances, 1 assist [1][6][7]


Ronaldo – captain

Group Stage

Cote D’Ivoire 0-0 Portugal

  • Yellow card

Portugal 7-0 Korea DPR

  • 87’ goal (7-0)

Portugal 0-0 Brazil

Portugal placed 2nd in Group G with 5 points.

Round of 16

Spain 1-0 Portugal


Storylines: Ronaldo became the record holder for number of times captaining the Portugal squad. Ronaldo had by this time become the face and the hope of the Portuguese national team. 4 years prior, he was important, but not the core of the team. He was an extremely promising youngster playing alongside Luis Figo. But by 2010, he had accepted his role as the face of the team.

Overall Stats: 4 appearances, 1 goal, 1 assist. [1][6][7]


World Cup 2014 – Brazil

Messi – captain

Group Stage

Argentina 2-1 Bosnia and Herzegovina

  • 65’ goal (2-0)

Argentina 1-0 Iran

  • 90’+1 goal (1-0)

Nigeria 2-3 Argentina

  • 3’ goal (0-1)
  • 45’+1 goal (1-2)
  • 63’ subbed off

Argentina won Group F with 9 points, with Messi tallying an impressive 4 goals.

Round of 16

Argentina 1-0 Switzerland (extra time)

  • 118’ minute assist to Di Maria (1-0)


Argentina 1-0 Belgium


Netherlands 0-0 (2-4) Argentina

  • Messi scored Argentina’s first penalty in the shootout


Germany 1-0 Argentina (extra time)

  • Sad


Storylines: For all the talk in the previous world cup about Messi not carrying Argentina, he did just that with the captain’s armband. Argentina won every game (except the final of course) by 1 goal or less, so Messi’s 4 group stage goals and round of 16 assist were SO critical to Argentina’s advancement through the tournament. Messi won the Golden Ball and a 2nd place medal. Some argue if Higuain were a better finisher, Messi would be a world champion with Argentina. (See Higuain article).

Overall Stats: 7 appearances, 4 goals, 1 assist [1][8]


Group Stage

Germany 4-0 Portugal

USA 2-2 Portugal

  • 90’+5 assist (2-2)

Portugal 2-1 Ghana

  • 80’ goal (2-1)

Despite being even with USA with 4 points, their goal differential lost them the tiebreaker and Portugal received 3rd place in Group G.


Storylines: Overall, this was a disappointment for Portugal, hoping to at least advance ahead of a historically streaky USA team. His stoppage time assist against the USA kept Portugal from being eliminated until the next set of group stage games, but ultimately did not matter. However, Ronaldo did become the first ever player to score in 3 different world cups for Portugal. The contrast between the teams’ performances in this world cup is a pretty good indicator of historical performance for Portugal and Argentina, with Messi objectively having a better supporting cast.

Overall Stats: 3 appearances, 1 goal, 1 assist [1][8][9]

See Messi’s Copa America history

See Ronaldo’s Euro history

Back to main page



[1] “World Cup Stats.” April 21, 2018. Accessed April 22, 2018.


[2] “2006 FIFA World Cup Germany Matches.” July 9, 2006. Accessed April 22, 2018.

[3] “Argentina 6-0 Serbia & Montenegro.” BBC Sport. June 16, 2006. Accessed April 22, 2018.

[4] “Argentines wonder why Messi sat out.” New York Times. July 2, 2006. Accessed April 22, 2018.

[5] “Podolski beats Ronaldo to award.” BBC Sport. July 7, 2006. Accessed April 22, 2018.


[6] “2006 FIFA World Cup South Africa Matches.” July 11, 2010. Accessed April 22, 2018.

[7] “Adidas Golden Ball nominees announced.” July 9, 2010. Accessed April 22, 2018.


[8] “2010 FIFA World Cup Brazil Matches.” July 13, 2010. Accessed April 22, 2018.

[9] “Portugal 2-1 Ghana.” Gary Rose. June 26, 2014. Accessed April 22, 2018.

How to cite this page:

“Messi vs. Ronaldo – The Final Showdown?” Written by Philemon Kiptoo and Vinay Kshirsagar (2018). World Cup 2018 Guide, Soccer Politics Blog, Duke University, (accessed on [date]).