World Cup Diary: Another Fine Messi Goal, Now for Ronaldo

Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tyrion Lannister - can things get any better than this?

AFP

It was a game that had everything. Death-defying saves, crunching tackles, three-eyed ravens … oh sorry, we were sidetracked by the “Game of Thrones” season finale there, let’s get back to the soccer.

We don’t know about you, but these 1 A.M. starts are beginning to take a toll. Yes, we’ll admit it, our eyes were struggling to stay open during the Argentina vs. Bosnia-Herzegovina match Sunday night. Mind you, we could have been drinking a vat of Red Bull and still felt a little drowsy watching what was, without doubt, the first disappointment of the World Cup.

Before anything else though, we want to take you back in time. To your youth. Maybe it’s the recent deaths of two childhood icons - Casey Kasem (please tell us the "Scooby-Doo” star’s tombstone will feature the word “Zoinks!” on it somewhere) and Francis Matthews, the voice of Captain Scarlet (he said he was indestructible! Sorry, it’s a Brit thing) - but today we’re going back to the playground.

Here’s the question. If you were a kid again (we’re assuming Haaretz’s demographic is a bit older than 10), who would you be during the school kick-arounds - Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo? One, a humble, likable, inspirational sorcerer; the other, Ronaldo.

Let’s be blunt here, the only way Ronaldo could make himself more of a dick is if he changed his name to Priapus. Yet he’s one hell of a player, one of the very best, someone who has pretty much single-handedly got his Portugal team to the finals.

Israel got to see his showboating and histrionics close-at-hand during the qualifiers, but he saved his best for a rainy night in Belfast (some people would say there’s no other type), when he scored a hat-trick to prevent what looked like a certain defeat. He also bested Zlatan Ibrahimovic during the titanic clash of egos otherwise known as the World Cup playoff against Sweden.

The World Cup schedule has allowed us a direct chance to compare Messi and Ronaldo. After Messi’s slow start to the World Cup Sunday night, Ronaldo makes his bow tonight, as Portugal faces the daunting prospect of playing Germany.

First though, a few words on Messi’s performance against Bosnia-H. For 60 minutes, it was the same Messi that has been such a disappointment at Barcelona this season. The Messi that has led a thousand football commentators to ask, “What’s wrong with the little guy? Where’s that yard of pace that takes him past defenders gone? Where’s the hunger?”

And then, in the 65th minute, the real Messi finally arrived. Receiving a short pass from Gonzalo Higuain, he cut in from the right, surged past a couple of defenders and nonchalantly rolling the ball into the net, off the upright. Amazingly, for such a superstar, this was only Messi’s second goal for Argentina in nine World Cup final appearances.

Messi was more like his old self after the goal, but Argentina were still unconvincing in their stuttering 2-1 victory. Like their arch rivals Brazil, they will need to play a lot better if they hope to win their third World Cup.

Like France, for example, who contemptuously dismissed the luddites of Honduras, 3-0. Anyone who thought goal-line technology would stop any arguments about a goal’s validity received a rude awakening when France went 2-0 ahead.

Confusion reigned when the technology first showed that the ball hadn’t gone in (it hit the upright - which we all knew), but then that it had gone in off the hapless Honduran goalkeeper. The Honduran manager is still probably arguing that one. Well, we did say they were luddites.

How about we do this all again Tuesday, once we’ve seen how Priap..., er, Ronaldo fares against the Germans. And rewatched that “Game of Thrones” finale.

Today’s games:
Germany vs. Portugal, 7 P.M.
Iran vs. Nigeria, 10 P.M.
Ghana vs. U.S.A. 11 P.M.