MUMBAI: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo have achieved enough in the game and would be regarded as great as Pele and Maradona even if they were to finish their glittering careers without winning the FIFA World Cup, believes Portuguese great Luis Figo.
“Winning is not always depending on the quality of the individual, it depends on a lot of other stuff,” Figo, who is here as part of Viacom18 Sports’ expert panel for the World Cup, told reporters on Saturday. “Of course is more prestigious if you win a World title or a European title, but doesn’t mean that their career or what they did in the past was not history in football. So depends on each one’s point of view.”
For all the success and accolades Ronaldo and Messi have shared over the past 15 years, football’s ultimate prize has eluded both, the Portuguese and Argentinian superstars, ever since they made their World Cup bows at Germany 2006. With Ronaldo closing in on 38 and Messi, 35, both players are aware the current edition in Qatar may well represent their last opportunity to join Pele and Maradona among the pantheon of World Cup-winning legends.
“I don’t like to compare because generations are different, football players are different, opponents are different, but I think in the last 15 years they were making an incredible career. If they win a World Cup, of course, it will be in the memory forever but you cannot forget what they did in the past,” Figo added.
From a statistical perspective, Ronaldo, who played under the leadership of Figo at the 2006 World Cup, and would inherit the latter’s iconic number 7 jersey for the national team, continues to make history. His penalty against Ghana in a 3-2 win for Portugal on Thursday made him the first male player to score in five World Cups. Going back to that 2006 campaign, where Portugal matched their previous best result (1966) in reaching the semifinals, did Figo possibly imagine Ronaldo would go on to become one of the game’s all-time greats?
“You cannot predict anything but you could see in that moment, that he had a lot of talent, that he could achieve big things,” he said.
Returning to the present, although the former Barcelona and Real Madrid star rates Fernando Santos‘s Portugal as “one of the best teams in the competition in terms of talent”, he had no hesitation in naming Brazil as his favourites for the title. “We have a very good team, very good players who play in the best clubs in the world…Portugal can win, of course, but Brazil is the strongest team,” he said, expressing his admiration of the Selecao’s scintillating second-half showing against Serbia in their opening fixture on Thursday. “They played very fast, were very aggressive with the ball and without the ball. They created a lot with their offensive game. But it’s not only about that game. In terms of players, they have two teams and in a competition like this, that’s very important.”
Though star striker Neymar is ruled out of the remaining group fixtures with an ankle injury, Figo said the perceived setback could well work in Brazil’s favour going into the knockout stages of the tournament. “He can rest,” Figo grinned, “and be fit for rest (of the tournament). I don’t know how hard the injury is and how he will come back. Of course, you cannot put another player with the same quality as Neymar, but they have so many top players on the bench that if he rests for two games and then comes back fresh, it could have very important value for Brazil.”
The former Ballon d’Or winner welcomed the performances of Asian teams, who have lit up the opening week in Qatar, as he reserved praise for Carlos Queiroz‘s Iran. “It’s good for football, for other confederations to have this success. I’m very happy for Iran because the country is passing through a difficult situation and I have one of my best friends coaching Iran, so I’m happy for him. I know the difficulties they must have had to prepare.”


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By Dipak

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