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Messi and Ronaldo’s Last World Cup Is the End of Soccer’s Biggest Generation


DOHA, Qatar — One after the other, they’ve exited the World Cup stage that has been theirs for therefore long. Some, like Luis Suárez, restless and helpless, on the substitutes’ bench, couldn’t hold back their tears. Others, like Romelu Lukaku and Edinson Cavani, lashed out at whatever inanimate object crossed their path, unable to contain their rage.

One or two have managed to greet the top with grace: a smile on the lips of Robert Lewandowski, satisfied that he had, a minimum of, signed off with a goal; a subtle, sorrowful shake of the pinnacle from Sergio Busquets as he turned his back on the missed penalty that had all but drawn the curtain on Spain’s campaign.

There are some who remain, after all, for now a minimum of: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, Ángel Di María and Luka Modric, Thiago Silva and Pepe. Some will depart over the subsequent two days. Some can have a stay of execution for an additional week or so. One or two can have the ending they crave, contained in the gleaming, golden bowl of Lusail Stadium, a trophy of their hands and ticker-tape at their backs. But at any time when it ends, nonetheless they react, for all of them, this can be goodbye.

It has felt, at times over the past two weeks, as if this World Cup is actually a valedictory tour for Messi and Ronaldo, actually the 2 standout players of their era and quite possibly any.

For the higher a part of 20 years, they’ve been the central characters in each the game’s overarching narrative and its day by day life; every story has, at heart, been about them. This tournament couldn’t be any different: it’s, in any case, their last probability to assert the one treasure that also eludes them, to seek out the missing piece, to cement not only their legend but their apotheosis.

Messi and Ronaldo, though, have all the time been something else, too: the spearheads of and the torchbearers for a generation of players that has dominated soccer for greater than a decade, the starriest solid that soccer has ever assembled. Whether it’s probably the most talented is just not, in a way, especially relevant. What’s indisputable is that it’s, by far, probably the most famous.

A Temporary Guide to the 2022 World Cup

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What’s the World Cup? The quadrennial event pits one of the best national soccer teams against one another for the title of world champion. Here’s a primer to the 2022 men’s tournament:

Where is it being held? This yr’s host is Qatar, which in 2010 beat the US and Japan to win the fitting to carry the tournament. Whether that was an honest competition stays in dispute.

When is it? The tournament opened on Nov. 20, when Qatar played Ecuador. Over the 2 weeks that follow, 4 games can be played on most days. The tournament ends with the ultimate on Dec. 18.

Is a winter World Cup normal? No. The World Cup often takes place in July. But in 2015, FIFA concluded that the summer temperatures in Qatar might need unpleasant consequences and agreed to maneuver the tournament to the relatively bearable months of November and December.

What number of teams are competing? Thirty-two. Qatar qualified robotically because the host, and after years of matches, the opposite 31 teams earned the fitting to return and play. Meet the teams here.

How does the tournament work? The 32 teams are divided into eight groups of 4. Within the opening stage, each team plays all the opposite teams in its group once. The highest two finishers in each group advance to the round of 16. After that, the World Cup is a straight knockout tournament.

How can I watch the World Cup within the U.S.? The tournament can be broadcast on Fox and FS1 in English, and on Telemundo in Spanish. You may livestream it on Peacock, or on streaming services that carry Fox and FS1. Here’s easy methods to watch every match.

When will the games happen? Qatar is three hours ahead of London, eight hours ahead of Latest York and 11 hours ahead of Los Angeles. Which means there can be predawn kickoffs on the East Coast of the US for some games, and midafternoon starts for 10 p.m. games in Qatar.

Got more questions? We’ve got more answers here.

Below Messi and Ronaldo, in any case, stretches a gaggle that features not only Lewandowski, Suárez, Modric, Lukaku and Busquets, but Thomas Müller and Manuel Neuer, Jordi Alba and Sergio Ramos, Karim Benzema and Paul Pogba, Eden Hazard and Kevin De Bruyne and Daniel Alves and a few dozen others, too.

These are the names which were woven deep into the material of elite soccer for what looks as if a lifetime. It’s 10 years since Hazard signed for Chelsea. It’s 12 since Busquets and Alba won the World Cup with Spain, 13 since Benzema moved to Real Madrid, 14 since Alves joined Barcelona.

And yet they’re still here, the figureheads and the focal points. Because of soccer’s rapid professionalization, to the quantum leaps in sports science and conditioning and nutrition over the past 20 years, they’ve been in a position to survive at the sport’s pinnacle for a lot longer than their predecessors could have imagined.

Pelé, the sport’s first global superstar, was something of an outlier, its leading man from his blossoming on the 1958 World Cup to his transcendence in 1970, but few others lasted a decade at the highest.

There have been eight years between Zinedine Zidane’s apogee, on the 1998 World Cup, and his retirement after the 2006 tournament. (He didn’t, it’s fair to say, greet the top with grace.) Diego Maradona was considered one of the best player on the earth in 1984 but, derailed by his demons, was released from his contract with Napoli in 1991, a has-been at age 31.

Cristiano Ronaldo, then again, signed for Manchester United before Facebook existed. He has declined at a considerably slower rate.

That longevity offers a partial explanation for the celebrity of the present group of stars, after all, but not an entire one. That is the primary generation of players to have spent their entire careers in soccer’s most gilded age, the period — driven by the recognition of the Premier League and the Champions League, by the spiraling demand for television rights, by the insatiable lust for brand spanking new horizons, latest territory — wherein the sport was transformed from the world’s hottest sport into what the historian David Goldblatt has called the “biggest cultural phenomenon the world has ever known.”

Its clubs have been become the final word status symbols, squabbled over by oligarchs and sheikhs and nation states. Its showpieces have been borrowed and co-opted for the needs of politics and power games. The players who’ve been, in lots of cases, the driving forces behind that supercharged growth have grow to be probably the most famous people on the planet.

For all its self-importance, its taste for exaggeration, soccer has a curious tendency to underestimate the true scale of its impact and appeal. It is just not, after all, an ideal measure, but Ronaldo has more followers on Instagram than anyone else on the planet: almost twice as many as Justin Bieber, for instance, and never far off 3 times as large a following as LeBron James and Rihanna. Lionel Messi is second. He has as many followers as Katy Perry and Kourtney Kardashian combined.

That has come at a value. Perhaps one of the best measure of the importance of this generation, its pervasiveness and its pull, is in what comes next. This World Cup, like every World Cup, has served as a midwife to soccer’s future: Jude Bellingham of England, Gavi and Pedri of Spain, and Argentina’s Énzo Fernández didn’t arrive in Qatar as unknowns, but they may actually leave as stars. That’s the enduring power of the tournament.

Their ages, though, are the giveaway. Soccer has, in effect, skipped a generation. There is no such thing as a clutch of ready-made heirs to Messi, Ronaldo, Lewandowski and the remainder waiting within the wings, primed to seize their thrones as soon as they retire, only a smattering: Neymar, Harry Kane, Mohamed Salah. This generation shone too brightly for anything to grow; it was only when their shadows had lengthened, just just a little, that conditions proved amenable.

That is just not to say that the old guard will ride off into the night as soon as their stay in Qatar ends. The Premier League starts again on Dec. 26, eight days after the World Cup final, and the remainder of Europe’s domestic competitions will soon follow suit. The Champions League resumes in February. The central characters will endure, for now. There are more titles, more trophies, more glory for them to gather yet.

This World Cup, though, marks the start of the top. A few of them didn’t even make it this far, after all: Ramos was not chosen for Spain’s squad; Benzema was ruled out of France’s with an injury a couple of days before the tournament began.

But by the point the subsequent edition comes around in 2026, few — if any — of them can be present. Those which can be can hope, at best, for the role that Ronaldo seems destined to satisfy for so long as Portugal remain here: something between a talisman and a source of trouble.

For all of them, at any time when it comes, Qatar is goodbye, the last hurrah of the standard-bearers for soccer’s age of excess. It’s perfectly fitting that it must have worked out this manner: that their final stand should are available a tournament of unparalleled gloss and superimposed glamour, played out in lavish, gilded arenas, monuments to a world where money isn’t any object, paid for with the sweat and the blood and the lives of individuals too poor to be a part of the spectacle, rising above the desert sands in a rustic drawn to the sport due to their irresistible appeal, their star power, their sheer fame.

Qatar is the stage on which they may all, sooner or later, say goodbye, soccer’s most famous generation taking their final bow in the guts of what their game has grow to be.

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