In something of a 'last dance', Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are both heading into what may very likely be their last World Cup. They have certainly dazzled at times; think of Lionel Messi’s outrageous curled effort against Iran in 2014, or take a moment to digest Cristiano’s sumptuous free kick against Spain in 2018.
The two football icons have not, however, won the World Cup with their respective national teams. Ronaldo's standout tournament from an individual perspective was perhaps in Russia 2018, when he bagged four goals. The team, however, crumbled in the last 16. Lionel Messi’s most successful World Cup came four years earlier, in Brazil, where he scored four goals, but his team came up short, losing to Germany in the final.
Neither have definitively planted their flag on foreign soil in the manner that Diego Maradona did in 1986, or Ronaldo Nazario did in 2002. Here, GOAL breaks down Ronaldo and Messi’s performances at the World Cup.
Ronaldo vs Messi at World Cup 2006
Lionel Messi and Argentina reached the quarter-finals in 2006, only to be knocked out on penalties by Germany. Ronaldo and Portugal reached the semi-final, losing 1-0 courtesy of a Zinedine Zidane penalty. Ronaldo notably played more minutes in this World Cup, but was only able to score once and recorded no assists. Messi, on the other hand had two goal contributions in less time played.
Ronaldo vs Messi at World Cup 2010
Argentina wilted in the quarter-finals, once again to Germany, this time suffering a heavy 4-0 defeat to their European foes. Portugal and Ronaldo were knocked out by their neighbours Spain, losing by one goal in the round of 16. It was a disappointing tournament for Ronaldo, one that was clouded by injury. However, he did muster a goal and an assist, which was a better return than Messi.
Ronaldo vs Messi at World Cup 2014
Messi was instrumental in Argentina’s journey to the final in Brazil, where they were overcome by Germany, once more. Portugal’s campaign was pitiful by comparison and nowhere near the expected standards. Both Ronaldo and the team underperformed, drawing to the U.S. men's national team and taking a 4-0 beating from Germany in the group opener. Messi came out on top from a personal perspective, scoring four goals to Ronaldo’s one and leading the team to within an inch of glory. He scooped the Golden Ball as a consolation.
Ronaldo vs Messi at World Cup 2018
Messi helped Argentina reach the round of 16, with a glorious first-time control and strike against Nigeria. They were then beaten 4-3 by eventual champions France and sent home. Ronaldo more than played his part for Portugal, with a stunning hat-trick against Spain in a six-goal thriller. Portugal were also beaten in the last 16, by Uruguay. Cristiano certainly out-performed Messi in 2018, bagging four goals to Messi’s one, but neither had an enjoyable campaign.
Messi vs Ronaldo overall World Cup stats
Very little separates Messi and Ronaldo in the World Cup. Ronaldo has scored more goals (seven to six), but overall, Messi's goal contributions exceed his Portuguese counterpart's (11 to nine).
Of the pair, Messi has come closest to actually winning the World Cup, having reached the final in 2014, but it is worth remembering that they each have helped their respective country to continental honours, with Ronaldo playing his part in Portugal's Euro 2016 triumph, while Messi was key as Argentina won the 2021 Copa America.
Who do you think is better?