After Ronaldo winning the Euros, it was inevitable that the Ronaldo vs Messi argument will take centre stage again. After all, Ronaldo led his country to their first ever major trophy just 14 days after Messi missed a crucial penalty in the final of Copa America and announced his retirement after losing three consecutive finals with Argentina in as many years. Another inevitable was that questions like “What if Higuain scored his chances ? What if Eder didn’t score ? Would that make Messi a better player with his national team ?”. Well, my answer would definitely be “NO !” because, for me, it’s not just a matter of winning trophies.
A Trophy Is An Indicator
If I said that Ronaldo winning Euros with Portugal and Messi failing to win Copa America, which is surely easier than Euro, with Argentina, who are surely stronger than Portugal, means nothing, I would be lying. It without a doubt shows that the Portuguese has traits that his “rival” doesn’t have. All I am saying is that it’s not just that.
Differnce #1 : Stepping Up When It Matters Most.
Remember that time when Messi saved Argentina from a dire situation ? Nor do I.
When Argentina reached the finals of their last three tournaments, they didn’t saving a lot, and in the few times they did, they didn’t find it from Leo. Messi had arguably his best tournament performance with Argentina during the group stages of World Cup 2014. He scored 4 goals in 3 games,. However, even if you remove his two goals against Bosina and Iran, Argentina would still qualify, and as group leaders, meaning that nothing would change for the eventual runner-ups. That’s how easy the group was. During the KO stage, when Argentina really needed goals, Messi made one assist, against Switzerland at extra time, and didn’t score any goals. He was hardly even close to adding any goals or assists.(He had no hand in the big chances Higuain and Palacio missed, so they can’t be an excuse for him).
At Copa 2015, it was even worse. Messi’s only goal came from the spot. All his three assists came in a match where the team scored 6. Even worse, none these resulted in an easy scoring chance, as you can see below. Again, the team still reached the final, and there, when they needed Messi more than ever, he was nowhere to be seen.
At Copa 2016, Argentina could’ve got 9 out of 9 points without any contribution from Messi. They defeated eventual champions Chile without Messi playing a single minute, and were in comfortable lead when Leo was introduced to the second and third matches. The teams they faced in KO stages weren’t much stronger. Sure, he scored 5 and assisted 4 in 4 matches, which is an impressive record. However, they came against very, very week teams. The average FIFA ranking (At the time of the tournament) of the teams Messi faced outside Chile was 61.5 ! The teams Ronaldo faced in his “easy path” to the final of Euro 2016 had an average ranking of 24. For a third time, Argentina reached the time. For the third time, Messi disappeared (He had no hand in the big chance Higuain missed, so it can’t be an excuse for him).
Now let’s look at Ronaldo.
At Euro 2012, in Portugal’s gam against Netherlands which decide who would qualify from the group, Netherlands took the lead with an early goal. What did Ronaldo do ? He scored twice, hit the bar twice and created two other scoring chances, one of which was a total sitter which Nani wasted. In the quarter final, Portugal faced Czech. Ronaldo scored his team’s only goal and hit the bar twice (Yes, again). For two consecutive crucial matches, Ronaldo single-handedly led his team to victory. You will never see Messi do that.
And who can forget Ronaldo’s legendary performance against Sweden in 2013 ? Ronaldo scored the only goal in the first leg, but the best was yet to come. He again scored the first goal in the second leg. Ibrahimovic scored twice in “” minutes to put his team in the lead. Sweden became the more confident side and Portugal were rocking. With World Cup on the line, Ronaldo dragged his team back with 2 goals in the space of 3 minutes to ensure once and for all that Portugal will be part of the biggest tournament in the world of football. Ronaldo’s 3 goals came from his first 3 chances in the second half, as clinical as anyone can be, if anyone else can. This was the most single-handedly won match I have ever seen, at least on international level. Unfortunately, Ronaldo was injured in WC2014.
Finally, at Euro 2016, and despite not having his best tournament, Ronaldo got his team out of 3 tough situation. The first came against Hungary, when he pulled the team back on level for three times, with an assist and two goals keeping them in the tournament with a heroic display. The second was against Croatia, who where arguably the best team in group stages. Ronaldo was instrumental in Portugal’s winning goal. His first and only attempt all match (Yes, you read that right) led to the only goal. The last one came against Wales, were the Welsh were having the advantage until Ronaldo changed everything with a superhuman leap and a bullet header leading Portugal to their second major tournament final ever.
Differnce #2 : Performing Against Strong Teams.
Here is a simple stat that might be more telling than any when it comes to the difference between Messi and Ronaldo :
In their last 3 major tournaments with their countries, Both Messi and Ronaldo played 8 matches against teams who had a FIFA ranking of 20 and higher. Messi scored no goals and had one assist (against Switzerland) in all these 8 matches. Ronaldo, in contrast, scored 4 and assisted 2 in 3 matches, including the aforementioned matches against Hungary and Netherlands.
Ronaldo played 2 of the eight matches injured, Messi played them all fully fit. Ronaldo played three matches against THE two football giants : Spain (2012) and Germany (2012,2014), Messi played one (against Germany, 2014). Ronaldo played all 8 matches with Portugal, Messi played all 8 matches with Argentina.
If you count Wales, Croatia, and Poland who ranked 11, 15, and 16 following the Euro, making jumps of 15, 12 and 11 places respectively, Ronaldo will have 5 goals and 4 assists in 5 matches of the 11 matches he played against top 20 teams. I would say that’s a much better record than Messi’s.
Another telling piece statistics is the two’s goal/game ratio. If you look at their totals, Messi and Ronaldo are very close in terms of goalscoring. The former has scored 55 goals for his country with a goal/game ratio of 0.49 while the latter scored 61 goals with a goal/game ratio of 0.46. When you look at their goalscoring records in official matches, though, it’s a totally different story. Messi scored 27 goals (51% of his total) during official matches, with a goal/game ratio of 0.38. Ronaldo scored 47 goals (77% of his total) during official games with a goal/game ratio of 0.52. This means that every 100 official matches with their respective national teams, Ronaldo scores 14 goals more than Messi. If anyone has a positional advantage, it’s Messi, who was second stirker or a false 9 throughout his international career, unlike Cristiano who played as a winger for the better part of his. Still, Ronaldo is beating his rival with a considerable margin.
Differnce #3 : Leadership.
This might be the biggest difference between the two. Ronaldo is a leader, Messi isn’t. As simple as that. Messi has never shown leadership in Argentina colours. We’ve all seen the infamous picture where he looked uninterested while Mascherano, evidently the true captain of the team, was willing his teammates to do their best. This happened before the second half of extra time of Argentina’s match against Netherlands, the hardest time Argentina had in their way to any of their last three finals.
Ronaldo, on the other hand, was the perfect example of how leader should be. At times, he led by example. He did that against Hungary when he refused to stay down pulling the team back, not once, not twice, but thrice. He did it throughout the tournament when kept trying again and again even if things weren’t going this way, most clearly against Austria and Poland. He was also frequently directing the traffic when on the pitch telling his teammates what to do. A little more than twenty minutes after having the worst moment of his entire career when he was stretched out of the pitch, Ronaldo gave, as Cedric Soares would describe it, an unbelievable speech willing his teammates and making them believe that they can do it even without him. After he missed his penalty against Chile, Messi stood alone rather than telling his teammates that they can still win it. Throughout the final against France, Ronaldo acted like a true leader would. He gave his teammates the confidence and the fire they needed so much to win the biggest match of their lives. As I mentioned before, Ronaldo’s leadership was all the more important given that the average age of 6 of Portugal’s 10 outfield player is 23.5, and the average number of national caps of 7 of those 10, according to UEFA, is 15.33. I would say that’s a pretty young, inexperienced team who needed a leader as much as anybody, and Ronaldo was there for them.
For all of these reasons, and even if Eder didn’t score and Higuain did, I would still say without any doubt in my mind that Ronaldo had the better international career between him and Messi.