World Cup: Is Russia 2018 the last chance for Messi and Ronaldo?

The Russia 2018 World Cup is loaded with fascinating plot lines on and off the pitch. Names like Cristiano Ronaldo, L...

Posted: Jun 15, 2018 12:34 PM
Updated: Jun 15, 2018 12:34 PM

The Russia 2018 World Cup is loaded with fascinating plot lines on and off the pitch. Names like Cristiano Ronaldo, Lionel Messi and Mohamed Salah lead a chorus of superstars striving to be crowned the kings of football.

Five-time winner Brazil wants the trophy back, while Germany is trying to become the first repeat champion since 1962. Italy, the Netherlands and the United States are all watching from home, while World Cup first-timers Iceland and Panama look to make an impact.

World Cup begins in Russia Thursday

Messi, Ronaldo lead star-studded games

Russia footing record fee

Off-field tension a concern

The host nation, meanwhile, has emerged as perhaps the tournament's most controversial site since Argentina's military regime hosted in 1978.

All sorts of questions have emerged ahead of the World Cup launch Thursday. Here's a look at some of the most intriguing ones:

INTERACTIVE: World Cup in numbers

SCHEDULE: Matches and kickoff times

READ: Spain sacks coach after he takes Real Madrid job

READ: US-Mexico-Canada win 2026 World Cup bid

Now or never for Messi and Ronaldo

With Ronaldo at 33 and Messi turning 31 this month, there is a feeling that both superstars won't get a better chance to capture the one major title that has evaded them.

True, this generation of elite athletes -- from Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, to Tom Brady and LeBron James -- is changing the rules of longevity.

But even if Messi and Ronaldo return for a farewell at Qatar 2022, the chances of either having a supporting cast of equal strength is low.

Ronaldo's Portugal is ranked world No. 4 by FIFA, coming off the high of winning Euro 2016, and aided by the emergence of 23-year-old Manchester City midfielder Bernardo Silva.

Messi's Argentina is just a notch behind at No. 5, returning strengthened after losing by an extra-time goal against Germany in the 2014 final.

Messi will operate the attack with veteran marksmen Sergio Aguero and Gonzalo Higuain -- both in their third World Cups -- and emerging 24-year-old Paulo Dybala.

A World Cup win for either Messi or Ronaldo could finally put to rest the debate of which of the two is the greatest ever. Or would it?

READ: 11 moments that shook the World Cup

How do Germany and Brazil stack up?

Defending champion Germany returns with coach Joachim L-w and much of the same cast from the 2014 final -- minus Philipp Lahm and Bastian Schweinsteiger. Replacing them as team leaders are Real Madrid's Toni Kroos and Paris Saint-Germain's Julian Draxler. Look for super-sub -lkay G-ndo-an of Manchester City to make an impact.

Brazil, meanwhile, brought in manager Tite to replace Dunga. Under his wing, Brazil is playing with renewed freedom and has not lost in two years.

Neymar is fully fit and will be joined in attack by World Cup newcomers Gabriel Jesus and Philippe Coutinho, with Thiago Silva -- suspended in that 7-1 debacle against Germany in 2014 -- anchoring the back line. Twenty-five-year-old Roma goalkeeper Alisson Becker has been dubbed the "Messi of keepers" by a former coach. No pressure then.

READ: Russia 2018 to be World Cup of technology

What are the most intriguing group matches?

Portugal vs. Spain, June 15: It is rare to see two tournament favorites pitted in a group stage match. Spain will boast a veteran squad including David Silva (Manchester City), Diego Costa (Atletico Madrid) and Champions League bad boy Sergio Ramos (Real Madrid). Will Spain's captain Ramos be a little gentler covering Madrid teammate Cristiano Ronaldo? Don't count on it.

Argentina vs. Iceland, June 16: Messi and co. will start their campaign against the pesky darlings of Euro 2016. Argentina would be wise not to look at Iceland as a tuneup for Croatia and Nigeria.

Led by Everton's Gylfi Sigurdsson, the Icelanders will be looking to thunderclap their way back to another big upset after taking down England in the Euros.

Germany vs. Mexico, June 17: Look for CONCACAF champion Mexico -- led by a rejuvenated Javier Hernandez (West Ham) -- to pose a bigger threat to FIFA World No. 1 Germany after getting rolled over 4-1 in last year's Confederations Cup.

Egypt vs. Saudi Arabia, June 25: On that note, if Salah is able to provide even 20 quality minutes for Egypt after that bruising collision with Ramos in the Champions League final, he'll give the Pharaohs a big moral lift.

But this match has ample intrigue off the pitch. Saudi, playing in its fifth World Cup since 1994, and African giant Egypt are both strong candidates to qualify for Qatar 2022. One small issue: The two are allies in an aggressive economic blockade against the Gulf emirate.

England vs. Belgium, June 28: Given this is the third group match for each team, one or both may have already qualified over Panama and Tunisia.

But Premier League fans will tune in for the sheer star power representing the league, including Belgians Eden Hazard (Chelsea), Kevin De Bruyne (Manchester City) and Romelu Lukaku (Manchester United), against England's Harry Kane (Tottenham), Raheem Sterling (Manchester City) and Jamie Vardy (Leicester City).

READ: And the winner of the 2018 World Cup will be ...

Which young players could breakout in Russia?

Just 19, France's Kylian Mbapp- is one of the biggest names in world football -- and no stranger to pressure. Moving for a reported fee of more than $215 million last summer to Paris Saint-Germain, the Parisian responded with a solid 21-goal, 16-assist campaign. Operating alongside the likes of Paul Pogba will allow him room to maneuver in Russia.

Everyone knows about Salah, but 23-year-old Egyptian Mahmoud Hassan is a speedy winger coming off a 16-goal campaign in the Turkish League who may surprise foes.

Hirving Lozano of Mexico notched 19 goals for PSV Eindhoven in the Dutch league. The pacy 22-year-old could create chaos for opponents if given the starting nod.

Twenty-year-old Ismaila Sarr of Senegal has been making an impact in France's Ligue 1. The dynamic forward has scored two goals in 10 international appearances, but has now cracked his way into his country's starting lineup.

Tottenham's Dele Alli is by no means a secret, but this could be his breakthrough moment on the international stage. The 22-year-old has scored just twice in 25 appearances for England but his near telepathic relationship with Spurs teammate Kane could prove crucial to his team's chances of success.

READ: Your Country Needs You! What nationality means to the modern-day footballer

What price the World Cup?

Estimates for the total cost of hosting the World Cup range between $13.2 billion and $14 billion, according to Russian news reports.

They include costs for building or refitting 12 new stadiums, modernizing 20 railway stations, repairing 178 kilometers of roads and expanding airports in the 11 host cities.

The figures may seem high, and greatly exceed the $11 billion costs of Brazil's 2014 World Cup. But they are a drop in the ocean compared to Russia's cost of hosting the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics. That total? $51 billion.

READ: How Australia kept fit on 250,000 km World Cup journey

What are the biggest off-field talking points?

It's difficult to say whether any World Cup has had this much controversy before a ball has even been kicked, although Qatar 2022 could be a contender.

British-Russian tension is at a recent high following the poisoning of a former Russian spy and his daughter in England in March. Both countries have since expelled diplomats, while the UK Foreign Office has issued a travel warning to its citizens, citing "anti-British sentiment."

The Foreign Office also flagged the potential for discriminatory behavior in Russia against minorities and the LGBT community, an ongoing concern raised by several players in the run-up to the tournament.

Meanwhile, Britain is in no hurry to renew a visa for its highest-profile Russian resident -- Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich.

Fanning the flames, former UK prime minister David Cameron -- a champion of England's losing 2018 World Cup bid -- suggested in April that Russia won its bid illicitly.

"We wanted to lead the world in great sporting events that bring people together," he told a group at think tank Chatham House. "Yet how did Russia end up winning the bid for the 2018 World Cup? I will let you fill in the blanks on that one."

Any other business?

English pop star Robbie Williams will perform alongside Russian soprano Aida Garifullina half an hour before kickoff in the opening game between Russia and Saudi Arabia in Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.

Calling the invitation a "boyhood dream," Williams is urging fans "to party with us in Russia ... for an unforgettable show."

Brazilian 2002 World Cup winner Ronaldo -- who scored 15 goals over three tournaments -- will unveil the winner's trophy before the match.

Which defining World Cup moment stands out for you? Have your say on our Facebook page or by tweeting @CNNSport

Ronaldo hopes to avoid witnessing another Brazil disappointment. He was on the pitch for Brazil's 3-0 loss to France in the 1998 final and watched the 7-1 semifinal meltdown against Germany as a fan four years ago.

"It was so strange," Ronaldo told CNN. "I cannot explain what happened that time, but football is great because you always have another opportunity to change history."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 97638

Reported Deaths: 2067
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hennepin27372932
Ramsey11088322
Dakota7635126
Anoka6238137
Stearns407724
Washington388355
Scott262533
Olmsted251928
Nobles197716
Blue Earth17266
Wright16957
St. Louis165941
Carver14377
Clay141741
Rice13438
Mower13425
Sherburne116914
Kandiyohi10552
Winona91318
Lyon7224
Waseca6898
Benton5603
Crow Wing55518
Steele5552
Freeborn5464
Nicollet54517
Watonwan5304
Chisago5131
Todd5042
McLeod5012
Le Sueur4744
Otter Tail4624
Beltrami4505
Martin43010
Goodhue3829
Itasca34715
Pine3430
Douglas3372
Polk3224
Isanti3151
Becker2812
Carlton2761
Morrison2682
Dodge2570
Pipestone23210
Cottonwood2280
Chippewa2231
Meeker2132
Wabasha2020
Sibley1993
Brown1962
Yellow Medicine1902
Cass1844
Redwood1773
Rock1760
Murray1722
Mille Lacs1693
Renville1578
Unassigned15452
Jackson1491
Faribault1470
Swift1441
Fillmore1330
Houston1280
Kanabec1278
Roseau1250
Koochiching1233
Pennington1201
Hubbard1171
Lincoln1160
Stevens1041
Pope990
Aitkin831
Big Stone830
Wadena720
Wilkin703
Lac qui Parle651
Grant634
Lake600
Norman540
Marshall531
Mahnomen491
Red Lake451
Traverse340
Clearwater280
Lake of the Woods231
Kittson120
Cook60

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 86860

Reported Deaths: 1315
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Polk16010262
Woodbury555467
Johnson517027
Black Hawk450990
Linn4101113
Story346217
Dubuque333241
Scott304528
Dallas280738
Pottawattamie215939
Buena Vista199912
Marshall179134
Sioux16803
Wapello134057
Webster128014
Plymouth116121
Clinton113021
Muscatine112155
Crawford11005
Cerro Gordo105921
Warren9666
Jasper86432
Des Moines8008
Marion7697
Henry7554
Tama73932
Carroll6855
Lee6437
Wright5961
Dickinson5306
Boone5178
Bremer5027
Washington47211
Louisa43115
Delaware4233
Mahaska41519
Floyd3543
Jackson3523
Franklin35118
Lyon3514
Winneshiek3406
Clay3344
Hamilton3323
Benton3281
Winnebago31713
Hardin3071
Poweshiek3078
Buchanan2861
Jones2843
Kossuth2800
Butler2752
Emmet27010
Clarke2683
Shelby2681
Allamakee2666
Chickasaw2661
Sac2650
Clayton2633
Cherokee2552
Cedar2521
Guthrie2527
Harrison2523
Fayette2312
Madison2272
Grundy2243
Iowa2161
Palo Alto2050
Hancock1952
Howard1927
Humboldt1913
Mitchell1910
Calhoun1873
Mills1831
Page1710
Cass1692
Osceola1690
Pocahontas1652
Monona1601
Monroe16011
Lucas1566
Appanoose1423
Jefferson1391
Union1383
Taylor1321
Davis1274
Ida1261
Fremont1210
Van Buren1151
Keokuk1141
Worth1090
Greene1030
Montgomery975
Audubon871
Wayne872
Adair721
Decatur670
Ringgold532
Adams330
Unassigned140
Rochester
Clear
47° wxIcon
Hi: 61° Lo: 47°
Feels Like: 43°
Mason City
Overcast
54° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 54°
Albert Lea
Overcast
55° wxIcon
Hi: 64° Lo: 49°
Feels Like: 55°
Austin
Clear
48° wxIcon
Hi: 62° Lo: 48°
Feels Like: 48°
Charles City
Overcast
48° wxIcon
Hi: 63° Lo: 44°
Feels Like: 46°
Winds pick up for Wednesday
KIMT Radar
KIMT Eye in the sky

Community Events