Ten goals were scored on a gripping first day of the knockout phase as France progressed to a quarter-final tie against Uruguay but Messi and Ronaldo may well have played their last games on football’s biggest stage.
In the first match, in Kazan, France roared back to beat Argentina 4-3, with 19-year-old Kylian Mbappe scoring twice in an electrifying display.
Later in Sochi, Ronaldo — who started the World Cup with a hat-trick against Spain — was powerless to prevent Portugal slipping out of the tournament as Edinson Cavani scored twice in a 2-1 win to send the European champions home.
Ronaldo, who will be 37 by the time of the next World Cup, was unable to keep Portugal alive despite incessant pressure from his side in the dying stages of the match.
Remarkably, both Messi and Ronaldo pack their bags still never having scored in a World Cup knockout game.
While fans and experts mourned the end of era on social media after Messi and Ronaldo’s exits, there were also plenty of jokes cracked at their expense.
If the 33-year-old Messi, who previously quit the Argentina team in 2016 before changing his mind, does not continue until the 2022 World Cup in Qatar, he will end his career without a major trophy for his country.
After winning a gold medal with Argentina in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, many expected the little forward to take his country to glory in a World Cup or at least the Copa America.
Yet despite his brilliance — and some talented teammates — Argentina have remained without such a trophy — losing to Germany in the 2010 World Cup quarter-finals and suffering the same fate in the 2014 final in Rio.
While Real Madrid’s Ronaldo will also be bitterly disappointed to be heading home earlier than planned from Russia, he at least has the consolation of having won his country’s first ever European Championship, two years ago in France.
Ronaldo played a leadership role in that triumph and Portugal coach Fernando Santos said he hopes he will continue and help him with a new generation of players. (Courtesy First Post)