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Lee Clarke’s World Cup Diary: Like a fine wine, Ronaldo gets better with age

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Misery for Lionel Messi, delight for Denmark, a goal for Griezmann and content for Croatia is a fairly cordial way of summing up Saturday’s feast of World Cup football in a nutshell.

With four games on ‘the box’ all in quick succession it seemed rude not to stock up on lager and shots, fill a bowl full of nibbles and get in front of the television for an absolute belter of a day with the lads.

It is hard not to get excited over the World Cup. Whilst supping a bottle of Corona with some mates on Saturday I mentioned that in no club tournament would I sit and watch every single game. The Champions League, for example, is great, but would I sit through 90 minutes of CSKA Moscow v Rosenborg? Probably not. Give me Russia v Saudi Arabia or Japan v Senegal however and I’m game!

I anticipated it wouldn’t be long before VAR made an appearance on football’s grandest stage and personally I thought it worked in a satisfactory manner when called upon in the France v Australia game on Saturday morning and in Peru v Denmark in the 4pm offering, with both decisions proving to be correct, in my opinion.

Quite why Polish referee Szymon Marciniak decided not to rely on assistance from the video technology when Cristian Pavón was blatantly fouled in the Argentina v Iceland game I will never know.

In hindsight, maybe he was saving Messi the ultimate embarrassment of missing two penalties in one World Cup match, but nonetheless it was a strange call from the official.

I have said before that VAR won’t help subjective matters – penalties for example – and I maintain a firm stance on that. Whilst I believe that calls in Saturday’s game were correct, several people didn’t and that is fundamentally a massive problem for the powers that be.

Anyway, less of VAR and match officials and more on some of the actual football that is being played in Russia.

Friday night saw Portugal take on Spain in the pick of the group games so far and the 3-3 draw certainly fulfilled all expectations - and then some.

Cristiano Ronaldo is a man a bit like Marmite in the sense that you either love him or hate him. Regardless of how you perceive him as a man, however, you would have to be pretty hard faced to deny just how stunningly brilliant the Real Madrid man is at the art of kicking a ball around.

The whole Ronaldo or Messi argument often riles me. It is irritatingly boring and makes no sense whatsoever. Can’t we live in a world where we appreciate their absurd talents rather than choosing between one or the other?

If the argument is going to be in existence, however, I would say that one area that Ronaldo does exceed Messi is form whilst playing international football and the events of Friday night and Saturday afternoon went a long way towards backing up such an opinion.

Ronaldo was scintillating against Spain and not just for the hat-trick he scored. A penalty, a goalkeeping error and a brilliant free-kick aren’t going to prompt me to start going over the top but it was actually his overall performance that caught my eye the most.

Ronaldo’s speed in getting up and down the pitch at 33 years-old is breathtakingly good and he does an awful lot for the team. Let’s also not forget that the he isn’t blessed enough to be playing in a team full of world class stars like he does at club level with this Portugal team. The same cannot be said about Messi, who has Sergio Aguero alongside him in attack at international level, whilst his nation boast so much talent that Mauro Icardi, the top scorer in Serie A last season, can’t even get into the squad. Let that sink in for a moment.

Anyway, back to the Portugal man and with time ticking on and the European Champions starring down the barrel of an opening game defeat, who would it be that would stand over a free-kick, puff out his cheeks in defiance and plant an unstoppable effort over the wall and beyond David de Gea? You guessed it, Cristiano Ronaldo.

When the cameras zoomed in on the man who had salvaged a draw for his nation at the end of the game, you would have been forgiven for believing Portugal had won the game given the fist pump and huge cry of relief. The passion that Ronaldo seems to have when it comes to playing for his country is seemingly undying. Again, the same cannot be said about Messi, who often appears uninterested during Argentina games, possessing the look of a man with the weight of the world upon his shoulders.

Just like a fine wine, the man often labelled as arrogant, self-obsessive and petulant is getting better with age and I wouldn’t back against him making the 2022 World Cup in Qatar in four years.

Although I have previously said the two shouldn’t be compared, surely even Messi’s most ardent supporters can’t deny that it’s Ronaldo who has the edge on the international stage. After all, despite his apparent ‘petulance’ I don’t remember Portugal’s talisman ever retiring from playing for his country.

In 2016, Messi missed another penalty, this time in ashoot-out defeat to Chile in the Copa America final and announced his retirement from playing for his country, later reversing his ill-thought decision.

Three weeks after the Barcelona man’s tantrum, Ronaldo was lifting the Euro 2016 trophy aloft, prouder than punch, after Portugal defeated France. Food for thought for those quick to jump to Messi’s defence this weekend…