Sunday, Portugal and Real Madrid legend Cristiano Ronaldo will have the chance to accomplish something his rival Leo Messi has never done: win a major international tournament. The Ronaldo – Messi debate has raged on for years, and will likely continue for decades to come. Both have multiple Ballon d’Ors, Champions League trophies and countless goalscoring records, yet have been slightly underwhelming when it comes to international duty.
Though they are both the top scorers in their countries’ histories, the only thing fans will care about is winning competitions. Messi, who has always lived in Maradona’s shadow with Argentine fans, just lost his third straight international final this summer after missing a crucial penalty kick against Chile. The disgraced forward then shockingly quit the national after the game, saying “For me, the national team is over…I’ve done all I can. It hurts not to be a champion.”
Ronaldo on the other hand, still has the opportunity to bring glory back to his country. Though he does not have the shadow of any former players or teams hanging over him (Portugal has never won a major international tournament), it would be considered a failure by fans if their greatest-ever player could not bring home some sort of trophy. The closest he’s ever come was as a 19-year-old in the 2004 Euro final, when hosts Portugal lost shockingly to underdogs Greece in one of the biggest upsets in football history.
12 years later, Ronaldo has changed his game a bit. The flashy winger has now turned into a prolific finisher, getting on the ends of crosses and winning headers. The outlook of the national team has changed too- Figo, Deco and Rui Costa have been replaced with Nani, João Mario and 18-year-old Renato Sanches. Though they’ve struggled at times with what was a somewhat easy path to the final, finally winning their first game in extra time in the semifinal against Wales, they seem to be improving in each consecutive game.
Without a doubt, their toughest task will come when they meet up with the host nation, as a star-studded lineup featuring Paul Pogba, Antoine Griezmann, Blaise Matuidi and others will be looking to bring home the cup for the first time since 2000. France will be the favorites to win, but if Cristiano is able lead his side to victory in an international tournament, he will finally be considered one of the all-time greats along with names like Pele, Maradona and Cruyff.
Ronaldo, when asked about his chance for glory in this upcoming final, simply stated ““I hope that by Sunday, you’ll be able to see me cry tears of joy.”