With Messi and Ronaldo gone, the Balon d'Or battle is wide open

Hope Soto
July 4, 2018

Trailing 1-0 to Ecuador in their final qualifier, the two-time world champions were on course to miss out on the World Cup for the first time since 1970 until Messi stepped up to score a hat-trick at altitude in Quito.

"Yes, and I would do it [coach the team] for free", Maradona said on a Venezuelan TV show, Reuters reported.

Russian Federation bids a sad farewell to both Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, who crashed out of the World Cup at the last 16 stage on the same day.

But with both players out of the World Cup, the battle for this year's Balon d'Or has been blown wide open, paving the way for other worthy candidates - still in contention for the World Cup title - to scoop the coveted individual accolade.

Russian Federation are hoping for a World Cup miracle on Sunday as the host nation take on 2010 winners Spain for a place in the quarter-finals after Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi exited the tournament.

"We saw Mbappe who is on the way to become, along with Neymar, ahead of Messi and Ronaldo".

The best players at this World Cup - players like Luka Modric, Isco and Juan Quintero - fit into their teams and make them better.

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Some salivated over a potential Ronaldo v Messi quarter-final battle between Portugal and Argentina, when in truth France against Uruguay really is a much more tantalising game in almost every way. But the weight of expectations grew so heavy on shoulders of the Argentine that he couldn't bear it for long and crashed out of the football's biggest showdown in the early stages.

"Statistics are made to be broken", Hierro said. "It's about what happens at 5:00 pm tomorrow".

Earlier, NAIJ.com had reported how Argentina left it late to book their place in the round of 16 in Russian Federation 2018 after a 2-1 victory against the Super Eagles of Nigeria.

Switzerland, Sweden, Colombia and hosts Russian Federation could not have dreamed of a more realistic route to the big game.

"I'm very happy, and it's flattering to be compared to a great player like Pele", said Mbappe, born a few months after France won the 1998 World Cup. "The only thing is that they can be a little bit slow, so we will need to find space at their back".

Uruguay kept clean sheets in three Group A victories, and has held opponents off the scoresheet during a six-match win streak.

If Denmark beat Croatia, it will be only the second time the Danes have qualified for the last eight of the World Cup, the other occasion being in 1998.

Other reports by MaliBehiribAe

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