MOSCOW: Lionel Messi is going to have a hard time keeping up with Cristiano Ronaldo at this year’s World Cup.
The Argentina great had a penalty kick saved during his team’s tournament-opening 1-1 draw with Iceland. At 31, this could be Messi’s last World Cup, and Thursday’s match against Croatia is crucial as the longtime Barcelona forward tries to deliver his first major title for Argentina.
Messi’s biggest rival, Ronaldo, seems less burdened during what could also be his final World Cup run.
Ronaldo has scored a tournament-leading four goals ? all of Portugal’s goals so far ? while silently needling Messi. After his first goal, the 33-year-old Ronaldo stroked his chin, implying that he was the “GOAT,” an acronym for “greatest of all time.” Messi is featured in ad with a real goat.
And when Ronaldo took the field for Portugal’s 1-0 win over Morocco, he sported a goatee on his previously clean-shaven chin. He promptly scored with a header in the fourth minute.
Croatia leads Group D after its 2-0 win over Nigeria, and another victory would put Argentina in a precarious position. Veteran midfielders Luka Modric and Ivan Rakitic shined in the opener, with Modric scoring one goal and setting up another.
Croatia hasn’t advanced past the group stage since 1998, and this could be the last chance for Modric, Rakitic and Mario Mandzukic, all of whom are over 30.
Another veteran provided a bit of drama for Croatia. Coach Zlatko Dalic sent home Nikola Kalinic because the striker wouldn’t come off the bench as a substitute. The team will continue with 22 players.
Croatia and Argentina play Thursday’s late match at 9 p.m. (1 p.m. EDT, 1900 GMT) in Nizhny Novgorod.—AP