First of all, apologies for occupying yet more of the internet with Lionel Messi v Cristiano Ronaldo content.
Whether you’re Team Messi, Ronaldo GOAT, or can’t we just enjoy both? you’ve undoubtedly spent too much of your life discussing the pair’s rivalry already.
But have you thought about how your opinion has been shaped by the split-second actions of Gonzalo Higuain and Eder?
Since Euro 2016, Ronaldo enthusiasts have criticised Messi for not winning anything with Argentina.
The legendary No10 has lost four international finals while his Portuguese nemesis is one from two, or two from three if you include the Nations League (it’s hard to say how much Uefa’s new tournament is valued at this stage).
Many believe the presence of an international trophy on Ronaldo’s mantelpiece is evidence of his superiority.
Messi fans would argue the nature of his finals demand consideration; perhaps they’re right.
Brazil comprehensively outplayed Argentina in Messi’s first major international final (Copa America) in 2007.
But his others – occurring in three consecutive years between 2014 and 2016 – were decided by barely tangible margins.
Pressure often turns major finals into cagey affairs, not least Germany and Argentina’s tense World Cup final in 2014.
After an inauspicious start to the game, a rare Toni Kroos error gifted Higuain a one-on-one opportunity.
And he shanked it, badly…
We will never know if Sergio Aguero would have converted the chance, but you’d have backed Man City’s all-time top scorer to have hit the target.
Soon after, Higuain had a goal correctly disallowed for offside.
Some Argentina fans believe he could have held his run and scored a legitimate goal, but that’s not for me to say.
It is overly simplistic to suggest Higuain cost Argentina (and Messi) a World Cup as we do not know how Germany would have reacted to conceding.
But La Albiceleste’s chances would have been greatly improved had Pipita slotted his one-on-one.
Just under a year later, Argentina faced Chile in the final of the 2015 Copa America.
The game appeared destined for extra time after 90 goalless minutes when, suddenly, Messi ghosted past two defenders and manufactured a three-on-three situation.
Ezequiel Lavezzi’s first-time pass begged to be tapped home at the back post.
Higuain – having come on for Aguero 15 minutes earlier – arrived just in time but…
Some of you may think the angle was too acute to be severely critical of Higuain — possibly.
There’s no defending his penalty in the shootout though…
That was Argentina’s second spot-kick of the shootout after Messi successfully converted the first.
Ever Banega’s unsuccessful attempt meant Messi was the only Argentine to score when the pressure was on — symbolism, right?
In 2016, Argentina and Chile met once more in the final of the Copa America Centenario.
Can you see where I’m going with this?
Higuain there, squandering a another one-on-one.
In many ways it’s the worst of the lot.
In a cruel of twist of fate, the final was decided by a penalty shootout once again.
This time, Messi missed his spot-kick as Chile prevailed and retained their crown.
Having missed out of three major international trophies (including a World Cup) in as many years, the Barcelona forward announced his retirement from international football.
And when you look back at the agonising nature of Higuain’s misses, Messi’s ultimately ill-judged decision is somewhat understandable.
Now for a contrast.
By tournament standards, Portugal limped to the final of Euro 2016.
Three draws from three in the group stages meant they only qualified for the knockouts by virtue of being one of the so-called ‘best losers’.
Ricardo Quaresma settled the ‘abysmal’ (quoting BBC) round of 16 clash against Croatia in the 117th minute before Fernando Santos’ side edged out Poland in the quarter-finals on penalties.
This meant Ronaldo and co reached the semi-finals despite having not won a game in normal in time.
They comfortably beat underdogs Wales to ensure a final against France, the favourites and hosts.
And Les Bleus were handed a huge boost when Ronaldo was forced off with an injury midway through the first half.
Portugal’s talismanic captain scored three goals and provided three assists en route to the final and Santos would surely have been concerned about his side’s chances without one of the greatest players of all time.
However, Portugal dug in with Pepe expertly repelling Antoine Griezmann and co to take the game into extra time.
In the 109th minute, substitute Eder let fly and beat Hugo Lloris from 25 yards to spark jubilant scenes in the streets of Lisbon.
And just like that, Ronaldo’s legacy was bolstered by virtue of a major international trophy.
There are other factors to consider, but Eder and Higuain’s contrasting fortunes in front of goal have undoubtedly shaped many people’s opinions of the dynamic between Messi and Ronaldo.
Where we should compare specific players on the basis of individual impact, we can’t help but cite team achievements (trophies) to reinforce our claims.
In a not too different reality, Messi is a World Cup winner with two Copa America medals to boot.
While the enduring image of Ronaldo’s international career is of him watching on from the sidelines as France saunter to victory on home soil in 2016.
As it is, the reverse is true.
And as a result, rather than acknowledging the greatness of both, some use their contrasting fortunes in international to split Ronaldo and Messi, when there is no need to split them at all.
It’s curious how our opinions of these individuals – legends of the game no less – hinge on the actions of Higuain and Eder, minor characters in this epic tale.
What is football if not a prolonged series of coin flips?