Ronaldo v Messi – the absurd timeline of how they have driven each other to break records

Something strange happened the other night. Lionel Messi scored his first World Cup knockout goal.

It felt surreal – surely one of the greatest players of all time had scored one before? Well, he didn’t and, even stranger, neither did Cristiano Ronaldo.

But if the rest of their careers are anything to go by, get ready for Ronaldo to change that against Switzerland today.

Because when one of them does something, the other tends to follow suit. Since the pair burst onto the scene in the late 2000s, they have been locked in a football game of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’.

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The athletic Takes you through the remarkable timeline, showing how two of the world’s greatest players relentlessly pushed each other to new records, trophies and gloriously entertaining moments.

2006: First World Cup goals

The 2006 World Cup kicked off in Germany, and Argentina kicked off their Group C campaign with a 2-1 win over the Ivory Coast.

An 18-year-old Messi was chosen to start their second game against Serbia and Montenegro, and the Barcelona youngster grabbed his first World Cup goal on his tournament debut to cap a 6-0.

One day later, in Group D, Portugal played their second group game against Iran. They won 2-0, with a 21-year-old Ronaldo scoring his first World Cup goal.

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2007-09: The revolving Ballon d’Or

After scoring 31 goals in the 2007–08 Premier League season as Manchester United retained the title, winning the Champions League with eight more goals, and contributing another four as Portugal reached the 2008 European Championship quarter-finals, Ronaldo won his first Ballon d’Or. Or that December.

The season also included the first meetings between Messi and Ronaldo on the pitch – when Sir Alex Ferguson’s side saw off Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona 1-0 in a Champions League semi-final.

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The award ceremony took place just halfway through Pep Guardiola’s 2008-09 debut season in charge of Barcelona. In the end, Guardiola’s team would lift the treble, helped by 57 combined goals and assists from Messi.

The latest of those goals was a 70th-minute header against Ronaldo’s United in the Champions League final in Rome.

After snatching away the Champions League trophy, six months later Messi beat Ronaldo to the Ballon d’Or as well, winning it for the first of seven times in the next 12 years.

Messi and Ronaldo have won 12 of the last 14 Ballon d’Or awards (Photo: Philipp Schmidli/Getty Images)

2010: Captain in the World Cup

Four years after losing to hosts Germany on penalties in the quarter-finals of the 2006 World Cup, Argentina kicked off in South Africa under the management of Diego Maradona, who as a player led them to win the 1986 tournament and finish as runners-up In 1990. A 22-year-old Messi captained his national team to a 1-0 opening victory over Nigeria.

Three days later and a year after his world record £80 million move to Real Madrid from United, Ronaldo also wore the armband against Ivory Coast in a game that ended 0-0.

Neither man progressed beyond the quarter-finals when Spain lifted the trophy, but after acclimatising to Spanish football, Real Madrid’s number 7 took his game to a new level in 2010-11…

2010-12: Most goals in La Liga

Ronaldo scored 53 club goals in all competitions in 2010-11. In La Liga, it was 40 in 34, breaking the Spanish league record for most goals in a season.

The record stood for 60 years, but in the next La Liga season, Ronaldo topped his new benchmark with 46 goals… and Messi did even better, with 50 goals plus 19 assists.

For good measure, Messi’s 14 goals in the 2011-12 Champions League were enough to equal the record for most goals in a single season in the competition, including in its previous European Cup format.

Back-to-back hat tricks

Now a Premier League, La Liga and Champions League winner, Ronaldo started 2013-14 in superb form, scoring a hat-trick on the opening day of the Champions League group stage against Galatasaray. He sealed the 6-1 away victory by leaving two defenders in the dust and tucking a left-footed shot into the far corner.

With Carlo Ancelotti in charge at the Bernabeu, the first Champions League in Madrid colors was in Ronaldo’s hands.

But just a day later, Barcelona took to the Camp Nou pitch to face Ajax in their first group game. Messi laid his cards on the table with a hat-trick of his own, which included one of his first sensational free kicks.

More gross goal records followed…

As the season rumbled on, Real Madrid steamrolled to La Decima and ended up with city neighbors Atlético in the final. With a penalty in the last minute of extra time to make it 4-1, Ronaldo scored his 17th goal of the Champions League campaign, blasting the record equaled by Messi two seasons earlier.

In La Liga, Real Madrid and Barcelona finish with 87 points, but Atletico are crowned champions, three points ahead.

With another genuine contender in the mix, the Clasico rivals have to raise their previous levels; Messi and Ronaldo certainly responded, contributing to 129 La Liga goals between them in 2014-15.

A major highlight came in December. A 29-year-old Ronaldo scored his 200th La Liga goal in (another) hat-trick, this one against Celta Vigo. Next day, Barcelona met Espanyol in the Catalan derby. Messi returned to serve with his own hat-trick, also freakishly taking the 27-year-old to 200 La Liga goals in the 182 games since Ronaldo arrived in Spain.

A thousand goals

In his crowning international achievement, Ronaldo captained Portugal to their first major trophy – beating hosts France in the final of Euro 2016.

The tournament came after another extremely competitive year for Ronaldo and Messi.

In late January, Messi scored the equalizer in what would be a 2-1 away win over Atletico. It meant for 24 hours, he and Ronaldo had combined for exactly 1,000 career goals. Ronaldo then took that number to 1,003 when he scored in half of a 6-0 demolition of Espanyol the following day.

As Barcelona cruised to another La Liga title, their sixth in eight years, Messi scored his seventh La Liga hat-trick in 16 months against Rayo Vallecano in a 5-1 win on March 3. The spotlight lasted two days before Ronaldo scored four in a 7-1 demolition of Celta Vigo.

He also won the Champions League again that season, the first of Madrid’s three in a row under Zinedine Zidane. This, combined with Portugal’s Euro triumph, was enough for the 2016 Ballon d’Or – his fourth – to go to Ronaldo.

Barcelona meanwhile crashed out of the Champions League in the quarter-finals, a painful habit they have had to get used to in the years since their last victory in 2014-15.

Messi started the 2016-17 edition of the competition on fire, scoring hat tricks in his first two group games against Celtic and Manchester City, setting the record for hat tricks in the competition’s history with seven (he and Ronaldo were previously tied. with five).

Remarkably, Ronaldo was able to score two consecutive Champions League hat-tricks of his own that season. The first came against Bayern Munich in a quarter-final decider, and the second against Atletico in the first leg of the semis, making sure he equaled the Champions League record Messi set five months earlier. (They are now tied at eight each.)

What a goal!

For a while, it looked like Messi had scored one of the best goals of the year. His free kick against Atletico on 4 March 2018 was sublime, making Jan Oblak scramble across his line to narrowly get close to a shot that curled into the top corner.

One month later, away to Juventus in the Champions League quarter-finals, Ronaldo responded. His spellbinding overhead kick remains one of the best goals in the competition’s history.

The Twitter years

The highlight of Ronaldo’s 2018-19 debut season with Juventus came in the Champions League. After losing the first leg 2-0 away to old enemies Atletico Madrid in the round of 16, the Portuguese stepped up again with another hat trick in Turin, sending the Italian club through 3-2 in general.

Barcelona have some quiet whispers of doubt about their own chances of reaching the last eight this season as Ernesto Valverde’s side play Lyon the following night. The French side held Barcelona to a 0-0 draw in the first leg, and so it was Messi’s turn to take control. He scored two and assisted two more as Barcelona demolished them 5-1 at Camp Nou.

As Ronaldo and Messi moved deeper into their thirties, the days of their record-breaking, goal-scoring merriment were finally coming to an end.

In the 2019-20 Champions League round of 16, Juventus lost to Lyon, despite the best efforts of Ronaldo, who scored two goals in the second leg, including a screamer from 25 yards. A day later, Messi produced one of his mystical goals when he made half of Napoli’s defense look incompetent, dribbling through and squeezing a shot into the bottom corner in a 3-1 victory that booked a quarter-finals place.

Leading international goalscorer

In September last year, Ronaldo became the leading men’s international goalscorer of all time, reaching 111 goals for Portugal after netting twice against the Republic of Ireland.

Messi this time took a whole week to make similar headlines himself, his 79th Argentina goal making him the all-time leading South American international goalkeeper.

If Ronaldo scores against Switzerland in the World Cup’s round of 16, perhaps it will be the last time we see one steal the spotlight from the other, Messi having already led Argentina to the quarter-finals in Qatar. Maybe we are starting to realize how lucky we were to experience it for the last 15 years.

(Top image: Sam Richardson)


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