Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are in a constant battle to be the best soccer player on the planet.
Both players are unrelenting goal machines who show no mercy when they come face-to-face with opposing defenders and goalkeepers, yet Real Madrid striker Ronaldo and FC Barcelona forward Messi chalk up their goals by utilising different styles.
Ronaldo is an all-round athlete who would likely have excelled in many sports. He has an extraordinary burst of pace, is incredibly strong, and is dominant in the air. Ronaldo is best known for scoring incredible goals from all angles — bullet-like headers from close range, long-distance howitzers, and from dead ball scenarios like free kicks and penalties.
Messi is shorter and less physically imposing than Ronaldo, but has great agility and can seemingly change direction, quickly, at will. He is an expert dribbler of the football, a creative forward, and is lethal in front of goal. Messi is regarded as a soccer magician who casts spells on opponents and beguiles audiences and media alike.
That is a question that is constantly up for debate, but one area where the case must now be closed is performance in the big games on the grandest of stages.
It was a point recently raised by soccer expert Tom Adams, deputy managing editor at Eurosport, who tweeted that Messi's record in "the biggest competitions compared to Ronaldo's is looking very shoddy."
Still think Messi is the better player by quite a way, but his record in the biggest competitions compared to Ronaldo’s in the latter stages of their career is looking very shoddy— Tom Adams (@tomEurosport) April 10, 2018
The last time Messi scored a UEFA Champions League goal in the quarterfinal stage or later was in 2015, when he struck twice in his side's 3-0 semifinal win over Bayern Munich. Since then, he has failed to score in the latter stages (quarterfinal or later).
Ronaldo, since Messi's two goals against Bayern that year, has scored 11 quarterfinal goals, three semifinal goals, and two goals in the final.
However, this season alone, Messi has created two goals and scored six in 10 Champions League appearances. This is an attacking efficiency of a goal scored or created once for every 97 minutes he has been on the pitch.
Messi's strike rate in Europe is impressive, yes — but not when you compare him to Ronaldo.
Ronaldo has created three goals and scored 15 in 10 Champions League outings. That's an attacking efficiency of a goal scored or created once for every 50 minutes he has been on the pitch.
In European competition, Ronaldo has been twice as productive as Messi has this season.
There is no argument to be had — when it comes to the latter stages of their careers, it is Ronaldo and Ronaldo alone who has been excelling in the big games on the grandest of stages.
Just last week, Ronaldo's jaw-dropping overhead bicycle kick could see him get crowned with the goal of the season award. It was a highlight-reel strike that required excellent gymnastics, athleticism, bodily coordination, timing, ingenuity, and execution.
The goal, as you can see, is one to remember. But what made it all the more extraordinary was that it was struck in the first leg of Real Madrid's quarterfinal Champions League clash against Juventus. It was the second of two goals he scored that night in Italy to help his club on its way to the Champions League semifinal thanks to a superb 3-0 win.
That whole week, the whole buzz in sports pages across the world was how good Ronaldo was. In the second leg, Real squandered its three goal cushion and allowed Juventus back into the game, but in the closing moments Ronaldo stepped up and broke Juve's hearts by rifling in a penalty kick.
Real won by a 4-3 aggregate score and has its sights on a third successive Champions League title — all because of Ronaldo.
Messi messed up on the big stage, as his goals were nowhere to be found when FC Barcelona needed him the most.
Barcelona had beaten AS Roma 4-1 in the first leg of its Champions League quarterfinal match last week. But Roma fought back with an unmatched fury on Tuesday, beating Barca 3-0 on the night and squeaking through to the semis thanks to an away goal victory on a 4-4 aggregate score.
Roma had knocked Barcelona out — but the story would have been so different had Messi managed to grab the game by the scruff of the neck and score. He failed to do so, missed a golden opportunity to score from close range in the 86th minute, and Barcelona got knocked out of the tournament.
Messi is a once-in-a-generation type player and, like Eurosport's editor Adams noted earlier, he may well be "the better player."
But, while Messi fails on the big stage, it is Ronaldo who succeeds — that much is clear.