Two iconic figures of the modern era have bowed out of another World Cup, with Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi suffering last-16 heartache at Russia 2018.
Quite fittingly for two players to have seen their careers intertwine at various points down the years, their respective exits from a latest international gathering were confirmed on the same day.
Neither was able to find the target as Portugal and Argentina were sent packing, with Uruguay and France proving to be one obstacle too far for even those with 10 Ballons d'Or between them.
Will Ronaldo and Messi be back for more at Qatar 2022 or has the curtain come down on a pair of all-time greats?
Here, Goal takes a look at what the legendary duo have delivered on a World Cup stage and what the future could hold for them as they arrive at a career crossroads.
Having shown at Manchester United that he was destined for the top, Ronaldo made his World Cup bow two years on from suffering Euro 2004 final heartache on home soil.
He appeared in six games at Germany 2006, with Portugal reaching the semi-finals before ultimately finishing fourth.
A first goal was recorded in a 2-0 victory over Iran, as he converted from the penalty spot, but his most infamous outing came against England in the quarter-finals as he conspired to get club colleague Wayne Rooney sent off for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho – leading to his winking episode - before holding his nerve to net in a shoot-out.
Four years later, Ronaldo arrived on South African soil as the most expensive player on the planet, having completed a record-breaking transfer to Real Madrid, and with a first Ballon d’Or under his belt.
He would find the target just once amid much hype, in a 7-0 group stage mauling of North Korea, with that solitary effort representing his first for his country in 16 months – a remarkable statistic for a man who now has 85 efforts to his name.
Portugal went down 1-0 to Iberian rivals Spain at the last-16 stage, with their talismanic forward unable to make much of an impact.
Ronaldo was back at the top of his game by 2014, as he headed to Brazil with another Golden Ball and Champions League crown under his belt, but a niggling knee problem held him back and, despite netting in a final group game with Ghana, he would go no further than that.
Further individual and European awards led the 33-year-old to Russia in 2018 and things started positively enough as he opened the tournament with a stunning hat-trick in a 3-3 draw with Spain.
Another effort was recorded in a 1-0 victory over Morocco, but the knockout stages once again saw Ronaldo draw a blank as Portugal suffered a 2-1 defeat to Uruguay which left their enigmatic No. 7 in tears.
Like Ronaldo, Messi made his World Cup entrance in 2006 as part of a star-studded Argentina squad expected to go well under Jose Pekerman.
He was forced to wait until a second game of the group stage before being given his big break, but needed little time in which to make to make an impact after becoming the Albiceleste’s youngest ever player at the finals as he scored and provided an assist in a 6-0 drubbing of Serbia.
His tournament was to end in frustration as he was left on the bench for a quarter-final clash with Germany, but he was very much the main man by 2010.
Diego Maradona was at the helm for that event, with an iconic figure of Argentina’s past charged with the task of helping to deliver global glory for a superstar of the present.
Success never looked to be on the cards in a chaotic campaign, despite Messi operating as creator in chief with several assists, and a crushing 4-0 defeat to Germany sent the world’s best player heading home at the quarter-final stage.
It appeared four years on as though those quick to write off claims to the title of ‘greatest of all time’ without a World Cup triumph would be silenced, but international final despair was to be suffered by a man who has grown all too accustomed to those emotions.
Messi sparkled for Argentina in the group stage on Brazilian soil, recording four goals – including a last-gasp winner against Iran – but was unable to net in knockout competition and saw a Golden Ball triumph provide little consolation as Germany took top prize.
Righting those wrongs was the target in 2018, but once again the Albiceleste were a shadow of their former selves and a final charge always looked to be beyond them.
So it proved, with Messi helping them to the last 16 with a goal in a must-win game with Nigeria, but unable to provide the necessary level of inspiration to prevail in a classic encounter with France which left Jorge Sampaoli’s side on the wrong end of a 4-3 scoreline.
Will 2018 be Ronaldo & Messi's last World Cup?
Ronaldo is now 33 years of age, so will be 37 by the time Qatar 2022 rolls around, while Messi celebrated his 31st birthday in June.
The former, despite being older, is considered to be the one most likely to continue his international career, with former United team-mate Gary Neville suggesting that the Real Madrid star “seems to want to go on forever”.
He does have targets to chase down – 100 international goals, the defence of a European Championship title – and appears to have lost none of his passion for the game.
Messi, in contrast, has already announced his international retirement once, in the wake of a Copa America final defeat to Chile in 2016, and may no longer have the motivation to continue shouldering the expectations of a nation.
His World Cup record will, however, continue to be used as a weapon by his critics for as long as he remains without a winners’ medal, so maybe the drive for one last campaign could be summoned.
Neither Messi nor Ronaldo has stated in public what their future plans are, with the latter steering clear of questions on the subject at the end of his Russia 2018 campaign while the former refused to speak with the press.
How have Messi & Ronaldo performed at World Cup finals?
Ronaldo now has the edge over his rival when it comes to goals scored, but Messi has enjoyed the greater success at football's showpiece event.
The Argentine superstar also has the only tangible reward to have been secured by the pair, in the form of his 2014 Golden Ball.
Both, though, are born winners and will know that the ultimate prize is the only one that really matters when it comes to World Cup campaigns.
|Shots, on Target
|Shot Conversion Rate