Most Americans watching Argentina vs Iran probably didn’t feel much of a rooting interest (unless they went in a geo-political direction). As a fan of the United States, I wanted only one thing from my viewing experience: to forget for one weekend that Lionel Messi exists. Because if I could forget about Messi, then maybe Portugal‘s Cristiano Ronaldo could forget about him as well. I had a deep underlying fear that, if Messi had a stand-out game, then Ronaldo would enter tomorrow’s game against the United States with extra steam coming out of his nose.
For years Messi and Ronaldo have been locked in a Manning versus Brady-esque battle for global soccer domination, which I suppose makes Uruguay‘s Luis Suarez a more vibrant and toothy Ben Roethlisberger. Which man is the best player in the world? The balance has tipped back and forth, but of late it’s been in Ronaldo’s favor. He won the Ballon d’Or, the soccer world’s MVP. He and his team Real Madrid won the Champion’s League, the enormous tournament to crown the best team in Europe (which really translates to the best team in the world).
Now, a little more than a week into the World Cup, the balance is starting to tip again. Messi and Argentina have two wins. Ronaldo and Portugal got blasted by Germany 4-0. Messi has two goals. Ronaldo has yet to score. Messi and Argentina already have enough points to advance out of their group. Ronaldo and Portugal are entering their game against the United States with an air of desperation.
Iran held Argentina (and more importantly, Messi) scoreless through 90 minutes, and I was feeling all good about life. Messi could be kept out of sight and out of mind; it was possible. Then in near buzzer-beater fashion, Messi did what Messi does. He scored the game-winning goal. Portugal didn’t need more motivation to come out with guns blazing tomorrow, but they got it anyway. Earlier this week, there were rumors that Ronaldo was injured, that he might not play. Now, my chants of “I believe that we will win” sound just a little bit shaky. If Messi did what Messi does, that makes Ronaldo all the more likely to do what Ronaldo does, too.