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Portugal’s Euro victory adds another page in Ronaldo-Messi rivalry

The common topic of conversation after Portugal lifted the Euro 2016 trophy has been how Ronaldo has surpassed his arch rival after adding an international piece of silverware to his cabinet.

Both their summers on the pitch ended in tears. Lionel Messi was seen devastated after losing to Chile in the Copa America Centenario, which was his third straight loss in an international final. Cristiano Ronaldo meanwhile was stretchered off the field in the 25th minute of the Euro 2016 final, and was seen crying, but as Edér scored in extra time to hand Portugal the win, his pain turned into joy and happy tears rolled down the Portugal captain’s cheeks at the end of the game.

Portugal’s success and Argentina’s defeat means that Ronaldo now looks likely to win the Ballon D’Or, take it back from the Argentinean. He can now say that he has achieved one thing his rival has retired trying, success with international football.

Ronaldo didn’t really enjoy a great tournament, in all honesty. His only worthwhile performances came against Hungary and Wales. But that’s where the argument for great players comes in, they make their mark in the most important games, in the best fashion.

The fact that Ronaldo was stretchered off right after the first quarter of the first half would make you think that the adulation he is receiving is a little bizarre. It was after all, the rest of the team doing the work on the pitch, it was Santos’ substitute Edér who scored a screamer worthy of winning any competition.

Anyone who doubts Ronaldo’s dedication and hunger could have seen it on display after he was off the pitch. He took on the role of  Portugal’s assistant manager. He spent majority of the rest of the game going up and down the sidelines, like he would have on the flank if he was playing, giving instructions to the players, instilling them with energy, motivation and enthusiasm.

Portugal defender Cedric Soares said Ronaldo gave a speech in the locker room during the interval that transformed the team’s mindset. He said, ‘In halftime, Cristiano had fantastic words for us. He gave us a lot of confidence and said ‘listen people, I’m sure we will win, so stay together and fight for it.’

And they did.

In contrast, Lionel Messi’s Argentina couldn’t do the deed. Despite winning everything at club level with Barcelona, and picking up all the personal prizes available, the Messi has been left disappointed at each of his seven senior international tournaments. Had Gonzalo Higuain taken the easy chances he had in the World Cup and the Copa America final,  this debate might have been “settled” before the Euro’s even started.

Messi’s decision to hang up his boots has come under criticism but everyone knows this also has a lot to do with the fight against the Argentinean Football Association and there is a big chance Messi makes his return in Russia.

Despite taking the role of the assistant manager in the final after being off the pitch, it was well evident that Portugal played far better without the Real Madrid winger on the pitch. This could have been out of genuine motivation to win it for their main man, but it also had a lot to do with the fact that without Ronaldo, who always demands the ball, Portugal were able to focus on their own jobs and take more responsibility themselves and were able to play cohesive football.

Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi

Ronaldo did inspire from the sidelines, and his role in the squad is unquestionable, his desire to shine for his country indubitable; but without doing much himself in the final, or in the tournament largely, is the Ronaldo-Messi debate really settled?

The debate itself is bizarre to begin with, in a team game, there are far more factors involved and trying to prove who is better is filled with erroneous factors. But it’s human nature to try and compare the greats.

It’s obvious that if Portugal won Euro 2016, it was always going to be remembered as Ronaldo’s tournament; hardly anyone would think of Edér or Pepe twenty years down the line while thinking back about the summer in France. Ronaldo’s tournament didn’t happen as one would have imagined, but the end is the same, Portugal’s success has been attributed largely to him.

Why can’t we just enjoy two exceptional footballers, the likes of whom we might not see ever again? Portugal’s 2016 Euro win shouldn’t “settle any debate” as far as Messi and Ronaldo are concerned and for the more rational, it wouldn’t. It will add another page to their rivalry, and Messi would need to come out of international retirement to respond.