World Cup will survive without Messi and Ronaldo

September 7, 2009

“Ronaldo and Messi could miss the World Cup!” screamed the headlines after Portugal drew 1-1 in Denmark and Argentina were humiliated 3-1 at home to Brazil.

It sounds awful, doesn’t it? How will we ever manage without Cristiano and Leo, two of the poster boys for the elite, Masters of the Universe level of footballer we’ve come to know and love?

Leaving aside for a minute the fact that Argentina almost certainly will qualify, and Portugal are by no means out if it either, let’s get one thing clear: the World Cup will get along fine without them or any other individual players, should their countries get left behind.

Comparatively minor tournaments, such as soccer at the Olympics and regional championships outside Europe and South America, need glamour players from the big leagues to attract worldwide interest from media and sponsors. Domestic leagues need them to do overseas rights deals, the Champions League needs them to keep the money flowing but the World Cup is in a different category altogether.

The World Cup has always been bigger than any one player, or indeed any combination of them. It has consistently been a tournament that has created new stars rather than one that has simply allowed established ones to shine.

It’s striking, in fact, how many players have come into recent tournaments lavished with praise, and adorning the advertising posters of the boot manufacturers, only to find themselves upstaged.

Take France in 1998. I don’t remember anyone going to that tournament with the express intention of seeing Zinedine Zidane. He was certainly much admired, but he was not in the same league as Ronaldo, the FIFA World Player of the Year for 1997, and we all remember how the tournament turned out.

Four years later, Ronaldo staged that remarkable comeback from his career-threatening knee problems, at a time when many had written him off. The players expected to light up that tournament were Luis Figo of Portugal, Raul of Spain, Zidane again and England’s David Beckham yet their contributions were minimal, and were overshadowed completely by the remarkable feats of co-hosts South Korea.

As for 2006, that was supposed to be the tournament of Ronaldinho and Kaka, but an overhyped Brazil side made a premature exit, to no one’s great regret. And what did Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard or Zlatan Ibrahimovic do to justify their reputations?

If Messi, Ronaldo or any other member of the football royal family misses the World Cup, it will generate a lot of wailing and teeth-gnashing in the build-up — heck, I’ll be sorry myself — but I bet any absences will swiftly be forgotten once the tournament is underway.

Perhaps it will be another established star who takes South Africa by storm — Franck Ribery, Karim Benzema, Fernando Torres or David Villa, maybe — but we may also see someone quite unexpected come from nowhere to make an indelible mark on world football.

Jermain Defoe to score the winning goal in the final, anyone?  

PHOTO: Argentina’s Lionel Messi (R) falls down next to Brazil’s Luisao during their World Cup qualifier in Rosario, September 5, 2009. REUTERS/Marcos Brindicci


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I agree. The beauty of the World Cup is that we watch Ecuador vs Saudia Arabia when we normally never would and still enjoy it

Posted by Claudia | Report as abusive

I think you’re being a bit optimistic about Ribery and Benzema. France might not make it either.

Posted by james | Report as abusive

And Ibrahimovic might miss as well. Brazil, Spain, England, Germany, Italy and the US will be the only candidates.

Posted by james | Report as abusive

Serbia to win the World Cup.

Posted by Zoran | Report as abusive


Posted by Martin | Report as abusive

[…] here:  Reuters Soccer Blog » Blog Archive » World Cup will survive … Share and […]

Posted by Reuters Soccer Blog » Blog Archive » World Cup will survive … | Sport Weblog | Report as abusive

I agree individual players are not important for the World Cup. But it will be horrible to not watch Argentina/France/Portugal in a world cup.

Posted by Rajesh | Report as abusive

Zidane “was not in the same league as Ronaldo” – is that a joke?? Regards 2002, Spain would have reached the semi’s (at least) had it not been for a poor decision by the assistant referee which doesn’t constitute in being “overshadowed by South Korea”. You’ll recall that Argentina were also the favourites however Zidane was injured so noone really expected him to “light up” the tournament.Of course the World Cup in 2010 will miss both Ronaldo and Messi – you always want to see the best teams and the best players

Posted by Dan | Report as abusive

Hi Dan, thanks for the comment. I wasn’t joking, honest :) I’m not talking about their qualities as players — where I agree, Zidane is easily in Ronaldo’s league — I’m talking about their ranking, at the time, as global footballing icons. In 1997, Ronaldo was FIFA World Player of the Year and had scored 34 goals in the league for Barcelona in 96-97. His first year at Inter was stunning as well.Zidane would go on to be recognised as the world’s best player but heading into the World Cup his reputation, globally, was not on a par with Ronaldo’s.As for the other points, well, as I recall, Zidane was expected to light up the tournament right up until he was injured in a warm-up game a few days before the start. He played in the third group game, they lost 2-0 to Denmark, France went out and the tournament survived without him.And I followed Spain throughout that tournament and they were pretty ordinary. They squeaked through against Ireland after a desperate game (thanks, Iker) and were equally unimpressive against Korea. A terrible decision from the linesman, sure, but few people in Spain remember the country’s performances with great fondness. Still, they were better than in 1998!

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

Hi Rajesh. Yes, it will be a shame. But what an opportunity for the rest!

Posted by Kevin Fylan | Report as abusive

totally agree with the article the world cup would more than survive and as an england supporter i am rooting for these teams not to make it to the finals, although this could have a sting in the tail as the always over expectant media (no offence kevin) will decide that this is definatley the year with weaker teams in the tournament, our last chance with our golden generation, our superb form in the qualifiers etc. thus heaping an extremely large amount of pressure and expectations on the england players shoulders which, if the last 20 years is anything to go by, they just cannot seem to handle.

Posted by maid | Report as abusive

Ronaldo has been a great player in the past but players get old as well and these past years Ronaldo had nothing but injuries.

Posted by Joan Busuttil | Report as abusive

The Ronaldo of the article is Cristiano…

Posted by Telson | Report as abusive

[…] so hot at the moment. Brazil, Spain, Germany and the Netherlands are going along pretty nicely but Argentina, France, Portugal and even Italy have got problems. None of them looks […]

Posted by England sail through, but how are their World Cup chances?  | Report as abusive

i dont think portugal will make it. and argentina will keep stayin in 5th place and win over a team in concacaf to qualify. And Mexico will win the world cup

Posted by jose | Report as abusive

[…] Some of football’s biggest names, including Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, are in danger of missing out on next year’s World Cup, as countries such as Argentina, Portugal and France struggle in qualification. […]

Posted by The all-star XI in World Cup trouble – Posted In World Cup | Soccer News Info – Soccer News Info | Report as abusive

How can the author say that s koreas 2002 world cup run was good. If anything it highlighted what was wrong with football today. And that is a crooked referee can decide the winner. Actually one of the referees involved in one of koreas games was later caught fixing matches in some south american league. And then i have to say that yes the world cup is bigger than the players but a person who has basic knowledge of football knows that half the countries in the world cup dont belong in that competition and they are blocking other better teams from qualifying. I mean can you honestly say with a straight face that the concacaf region deserves 3.5 spots(3 with 1 going to playoff)? Practically every team from the uefa region who makes it to the playoffs (not auto qualification) would wipe the floor with any of the 3 qualified teams from the concacaf. This is coming from a canadian by the way..Now now please nobody direct me to the world team rankings cos USA for example who beats guatemala 36 times a year gets a great ranking because of consistent qualification to the world cup (vs worst teams in the world with populations of like 5000… seriously!). I mean if belgium who is an average team had to play the lineup of games the USA had to play they would be in the top 10 in the world. Its just plain stupidity really. Its just a way to promote the sport in the biggest money spending region in the world. Cash cow…the only reason.

Posted by krook | Report as abusive