With the elimination of Portugal and Argentina, Russia’s World Cup lost most of its star power when Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi packed up to leave. If Brazil and Neymar go out Monday, there will be few widely recognized names left in the tournament.
As for whether Ronaldo and Messi have played their last World Cup games, neither has officially closed that door just yet.
“Now it’s not the time to talk about the future,” said Ronaldo, whose team was eliminated by Uruguay in the round of 16. “I’m sure the national team will remain as one of the best in the world. We have great players, a fantastic group, with young players, with great ambition to win and that’s why I’m confident and I’m happy, because I know the national team will always be giving its best.”
Ronaldo, who led Real Madrid to a third consecutive Champions League title in May, helped Portugal to its first major international title at the European Championships two years ago. He started the World Cup with four goals in his first 94 minutes but he didn’t score in Portugal’s last two games. He will be 37 when the next World Cup kicks off in Qatar in 2022.
“Cristiano still has a lot to give to football,” Portugal coach Fernando Santos said. “We already have a new competition in September and obviously we want Cristiano to be with us. He can help the younger players with his knowledge. We have a team with a lot of young players, so it’s important that our captain remains with us.”
Messi, who will be 35 by Qatar, briefly retired from the national team in frustration after Argentina lost in the final of the Copa America two years ago, the fourth major international title game Messi has played in and fourth in which his team failed to score.
After Argentina fell to France on Saturday, Javier Mascherano, 34, and Lucas Biglia, 32, announced they were quitting a national team now in transition. Messi, so far, has remained silent.
Before the tournament he told a Spanish newspaper his team’s World Cup performance would determine his future.
“It will depend on how far we go, how we’re going to finish,” he said.
They didn’t go far nor finish well and at the final whistle — perhaps the last one of Messi’s World Cup career — Argentina’s captain stood motionless, hands on hips, pain etched across a once-boyish face now hidden by a brown beard and hardened by expectations for his nation unmet.
Four hours later and nearly 1,000 miles away, Ronaldo spent what may be his final World Cup minutes arguing with a referee, leaving the field not with a win but with a yellow card.
It wasn’t the way either wanted to go out.
Only one other teenager has had a multi-goal game in the knockout stage of a World Cup and France’s Kylian Mbappe, who did it Saturday, took great pains to knock down attempts to link him to Pele, the Brazilian who was the first to do it 60 years ago.
But Mbappe’s coach Didier Deschamps, who won a World Cup as a player the same year Mbappe was born, couldn’t help offering a qualified comparison between his young star and another Brazilian legend, Ronaldo.
“Ronaldo was a forward who was very, very quick,” Deschamps said through a translator. “I think Kylian is even quicker. But this is somebody who was a world champion compared to a young player who has lots of ability and qualities.
“He is only 19 years old and he will make a lot of progress.”
The Associated Press contributed to this story.