Messi, Ronaldo

Night of Goliaths: Messi’s 800th career goal; Ronaldo’s international caps record

Estadio Monumental (Buenos Aires)

Argentina -2; Panama 0

Shots on target- 5, Goals -1 , Shots Blocked -3; Shots off target-6, Hit woodwork- 2;  Big chance missed- 1; Successful dribbles- 9/12; Touches 110; Possession lost- 25, read the statistician’s notebook for the name, Lionel Messi. By his standards, an ordinary day on the pitch, but in reality, it never was.

The atmosphere was electric and the 83,000-capacity crowd in the stadium was not disappointed in Leo’s and company’s first international match in the three-starred jersey. The match was not as tight as the score line and the timings of the goals suggest, even though the Panameños defended their fort with 10 men on the edge of their box. They seldom tried to send the ball up and counter attack, allowing Argentinian goalkeeper Dibu Martinez to relax, observe and advise his front liners. He was seen shouting instructions to others whenever Messi was to take a set piece.

All for Messi

The entire Argentine team appeared to be playing for Messi to score, as one can see from the match statistics — the maestro tried 14 shots, the most he has had in a single outing in 724 matches for which data is available.

Goal number 800 was phenomenal that it not only came at La Monumental but also from a direct free kick in the dying moments of the match. All the Panamanians were there between the ball and the goal when he took the kick in the 89th minute of the match. Interestingly it took six freekicks for him to put one into the top right corner of the net. Of the six freekicks he took in the match, only one went off target, two of those were saved by Jose Carlose Guerra the Panamanian goalie who was the busiest man on the pitch last night. A kiss on the cheek by Nahuel Molina, a tight hug by the ever-faithful lieutenant Rodrigo and the hope-huddle dance by the entire team after the free-kick goal, tell it all – what this man means to the team.

Sacloni’s tactics

The tactics Argentine coach Scaloni employed were pretty simple and straightforward, as he started with the same World Cup-winning XI. He rotated the players giving minutes to almost everyone who played in Qatar, barring Gonzalo Montiel and German Pazella. He started with Messi in the centre, flanked by Alvarez and Di Maria on the left and right, a formation that failed to deliver as the right flanked got cluttered with both Messi, Maria (and occasionally Alvarez too) drifting wide. The left flank was almost left deserted, but the Panama team was not the kind of opponents who could make the most of it.

Also Read: Who eats butter chicken without chicken? Well, MS Dhoni does!

The plan to get Messi to score did backfire a little bit, it appeared, as everyone who got the ball tried desperately to pass it on to Messi, Di Maria and De Paul in particular. With Messi and Maria playing in tandem, it’s natural that the space for someone like Julian Alvarez shrinks considerably. But with the introduction of Thiago Almada for Mac Allister and Leandro Paredes for Fernandez proved productive for the world champions, as the former was instrumental in netting their first from a rebound, when Messi’s fourth freekick hit the woodwork.

Ronaldo’s record

Estádio José Alvalade, (Lisbon)

Portugal -4; Liechtenstein – 0

When the world champions were all over the park with Panama, the Portugal team had already completed its drubbing of the minions, Liechtenstein, in Euro 2024 qualifier. The match that saw Cristiano Ronaldo break the men’s appearance record and score a brace to take his international goal tally to 120.

The 38-year-old earned his 197th cap for his nation as a starter after being benched from the Portuguese starting XI for the World Cup in Qatar last year. With the new coach Roberto Martinez affirming his faith in Ronaldo, this could well be a real comeback for the veteran. While netting the second goal through a ferocious freekick taken from the edge of the box, Ronaldo also reached another milestone of scoring 100 goals in competitive football for his country.

Spiking rumours

Given that Ronaldo will be 39 by the start of Euro 2024, there have been concerns about whether his 20-year international career will come to an end in Qatar. But the global super star has found a strong ally in Martinez, who has been solid in defending his choice to keep the striker in the team.

“I have no qualms admitting that I had a poor career span, but there is no time for regrets. Life goes on, and whether I succeeded or not, it was a necessary part of my development. When we are at the top of the mountain, we often cannot see what is below. Since I had never experienced this, like in the past few months, I am now better prepared, and that learning was crucial. I’ve improved as a man since,” Ronaldo had told a TV channel the other day.

Apart from top scoring in the Euro final rounds with 14 goals, he holds the record for most goals scored – 140 — in the UEFA Champions League. In addition, Ronaldo has been the top scorer in three of the top five leagues in Europe: England, Spain, and Italy.

But last night despite scoring a brace and getting past couple of new records, his performance was somewhat eclipsed by the stellar show put up by ex-Manchester City man Joao Cancelo now playing for Bayern Munich. Cancelo earned 9.8 rating points in the match as per sofa score.

Ronaldo’s statistics for the match were two goals, three shots on and off target apiece, 15 passes with an accuracy of 75 per cent and a total of 29 touches in the total 78 minutes played.

Argetinians celebrate

In Buenos Aires, it was a celebration all night after the final whistle of the match against Panama, as family members, including kids, joined Messi and his Argentina teammates on the field. Fireworks exploded in the backdrop and supporters roared for their champion team as they raised replica World Cup trophies.

“I’ve always pictured myself here, joining you in joy as we bring the Copa America, the Finalissima trophy and the greatest of all achievements — the World Cup to our home country. Even though I am aware that today is our day to rejoice, I don’t want to forget any of my previous teammates who worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot on the field to help us succeed. They merit the admiration of all Argentine supporters because they consistently gave their all for these colours,” said an emotional Messi.

Also Read: Ronaldo, Kane break records in wins for Portugal, England

With two of the game’s biggest stars having a blast with their respective national teams and leaving behind the less-than-pleasant outing with their clubs, the international football schedule is off to a promising start.

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