Their Respective National Teams

by Philemon Kiptoo

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Soccer is a team sport. Although individual brilliance is fundamental and useful, a player’s success is determined by how the overall team integrates and performs together.

As such, as we try to speculate on how Messi and Ronaldo will perform in the World Cup in Russia, it’s important to dive a little deeper into the teams they’ll be playing for in Russia this summer.

Argentina and Portugal are lucky to have Messi and Ronaldo in their teams – no one would disagree. But neither of these countries has won any major global tournament in the recent past. Messi and Argentina appeared in the final of the previous tournament but failed to finish the job and succumbed to a German team that primarily relied on team play instead of individual performance. Portugal did not make it out of the group stage.

However, the Argentine and Portuguese teams have undergone many changes since 2014. Ronaldo and Portugal redeemed themselves by winning Euro 2016. Argentina’s near-misses continued as they featured in both finals of COPAs 2015 & 2016 only to lose both games to Chile in PK shootouts.

Argentina squad

Under the new leadership of coach Jorge Sampaoli, Argentina are very much aware of their current situation. A lot of changes have been made in the team, but the role and influence of Messi is still paramount. This was clear in the must-win match against Ecuador during WC qualifying. Somehow Argentina had done so badly in the qualifying games that a loss to Ecuador would have denied them a spot at Russia 2018. Luckily, Messi came to the rescue and scored an emphatic hat trick to secure Argentina’s place. One of the major criticisms of the Argentine team is their failure to connect as players and effectively function as a unit. Argentina has several individual players who are very talented and in great form. In the English Premier League, the likes of Sergio Aguero have become club legends. In Italy’s Serie A, Paulo Dybala, Gonzalo Higuain and Mauro Icardi lead the race for most goals. Di Maria and Pastore have consistently performed for France’s Paris Saint-Germain, and Messi is dominating Spanish football.

However, even with all these players featuring in the national team, Argentina almost didn’t make it to the World Cup. Their reliance on individual brilliance has cost them heavily. Sampaoli’s biggest task is to come up with a working mechanism that combines the right players for the team that will represent Argentina in Russia. Having a player of Messi’s stature in one’s team is definitely a plus, but a functioning strategy is necessary to get the best out of the Argentina team. If Sampaoli aspires to end Argentina’s long drought for a major international trophy this summer, his roster decisions in Russia are the starting point. He has a wide range of players to choose from, and he should prioritize how the chosen players can combine rather than individual ability. After that, it will be up to the players to seize the opportunity and rally for an Argentina victory.  

Portugal squad

Under the management of Fernando Santos, the Portuguese team on the other hand is fairly balanced. Even as massive underdogs in the 2016 Euros tournament, they collectively weathered the storm against France in the final despite lacking their captain Ronaldo on the field for most of the game.

Ronaldo and his team easily made it to Russia after impressive wins against Switzerland and Hungary. The Portuguese team projected to play in Russia will have a mix of experienced players like Pepe and Ronaldo. Other young players like Renato Sanches will be seeking to make their WC debuts with the national team.

Overall, both Argentina and Portuguese will feature strong teams in Russia; and the presence of Messi and Ronaldo in their respective squads plays to their advantage. 

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[1] “European Top Scorers –” April 28.

[2] “Possible Argentina Line Up in the 2018 WC –”. April 24, 2018

[3] “Possible Portugal Line Up in the 2018 WC – Total Sportek” April 24, 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]).