01 Jul, 2018 - 00:07 0 Views

The Sunday Mail

Oh, how the mighty has fallen.

It was as if they were two halves of an old couple, neither of whom could live after the other had gone.

First, it was Lionel Messi, vanquished by the teenage brilliance of Kylian Mbappe, and then a few hours later and 1200 miles to the south, it was Cristiano Ronaldo, who tried extravagantly to drag his team past Uruguay and failed.

And so the tournament lost them both on the same day.

And the thing is that the tournament has been so good that it feels as if it might not actually miss them.

For the first time in careers that have defied the years for so long, it felt as though maybe Ronaldo and Messi belong to the past now and that Portugal’s defeat by the shores of the Black Sea marked the second act of the changing of the guard in football’s superstar world order.

Many had hoped that Portugal and Argentina would win their second round ties so that the two men might meet in one last titanic battle in the quarter final in Nizhny Novgorod.

Neither of them made it.

The two men played out their own private feud right until the bitter end.

Even as their worlds crumbled around them, they were cocooned in the battle for supremacy that has defined football for the last decade.

And as they fought and argued and boasted, others stepped forward to take centre stage.

It is unlikely that either Ronaldo or Messi will return in Qatar four years hence to try to reclaim their crowns. Ronaldo had taken to the pitch at the Fisht Olympic Stadium with a goatee beard sprouting from his chin.

It was part of the private joke that was not really much of a joke at all.

Offended because Messi had filmed an adidas advert with a goat, Ronaldo interpreted that as a boast that Messi thought he was the Greatest of All Time. He responded with his goatee.

And as they fought, they fell.

They have triumphed together and dominated together for more than a decade and last night chunks of their career died together.

First it was the little maestro, 1200 miles to the north in Kazan, as Messi had done his utmost to haul his fractured, dysfunctional, misfiring Argentina side into the last eight but the superhuman feats he performs on a regular basis for Barcelona are on shorter rations at World Cups and France were simply too young and too good.

Amid the euphoria of watching such a vibrant French performance, there was something poignant about seeing Messi upstaged by the teenage superstar talent of Kylian Mbappe, whose speed and boldness were too much for Argentina’s habitually ragged defence to cope with.

The teenager scored two goals in four minutes to send the youthful French charging into the World Cup quarter-finals with a thrilling 4-3 win over Argentina.

The 19-year-old forward’s electric pace caused Argentina problems all afternoon and his twin strikes helped France overturn a 2-1 deficit.

Messi provided assists for two goals but the 31-year-old was otherwise subdued in the “false nine” role and his fourth, and possibly final, crack at winning the World Cup was destined to end in disappointment.

While Mbappe was the most influential player on the pitch, Argentina winger Angel Di Maria and France full back Benjamin Pavard fought out a private contest for the best goal of the match with two magnificent long-range strikes.

Di Maria’s goal canceled out Antoine Griezmann’s early penalty for France just before the break while Pavard’s in the 57th minute leveled the scores at 2-2 after Argentina had edged ahead through Gabriel Mercado.

With Messi gone, it was Ronaldo’s turn a few hours later.

Ronaldo hurtled into the game against Uruguay like a man on a mission.

He started with a couple of extravagant stepovers and after he had been the object of a particularly industrial foul from a Uruguay defender, he ran on to a short pass from Bernardo Silva and a hit a fierce low shot straight at Fernando Muslera.

But then in the seventh minute, Cavani collected the ball on the right and drilled a long ball out to the left to Suarez.

Suarez was looking up to see where Cavani was even as he cut inside Ricardo and the former Liverpool player found him perfectly with a cross hit to the back post with pace and curl.

Cavani rose unmarked and headed the ball into the roof of the net.

Ronaldo did his best to rally his side, mainly by adopting a shoot-on-sight policy, but Suarez was still orchestrating play more effectively for Uruguay.

Ten minutes after half time, Portugal were level, as Raphael Guerreiro swung a cross over from the left, and Pepe leapt behind Ronaldo and met the ball in the middle of his forehead, powering it past Muslera.

But parity did not last long.

Five minutes later, Uruguay broke and spread the ball wide to Cavani on the left.

Cavani made up his mind what he was going to do long before it reached him, as he ran on to it, opened his body and curled the ball beyond Rui Patricio with his right foot.

It was a beautiful companion for his first goal.

Ronaldo did his theatrical best to wrest an equaliser but it would not come.

Funny enough almost with his last act was to be booked, and he would have missed the showdown with Messi anyway had the stars aligned the two did not crash out. — Dailymail

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