Cristiano Ronaldo, left, and Lionel Messi. Photo: Google

By MARK LORENZANA

Superstars Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are winding down their legendary soccer careers, which includes — perhaps, more importantly — being the unofficial torchbearers of the beautiful game, and this upcoming 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar is the last time they will lace up their cleats to play for their respective countries, Argentina and Portugal.

The 35-year-old Messi recently announced that, officially, the Qatar World Cup will be his last. For his part, Ronaldo, 37, has said as early as 2016 that he will not play in a FIFA World Cup tournament beyond 2022.

“Surely, this will be my final World Cup,” Messi said in an interview with ESPN. “I’m counting down the days until the World Cup. The truth is, there’s a little anxiety, saying: ‘Well, we’re here, what’s going to happen? It’s my last one, how’s it going to go?’ On one hand, I can’t wait for it to arrive, but I’m also desperate for it to go well.”

“I expect Qatar could be my final World Cup,” Ronaldo said in an interview with beIN Sports in 2016. “I often go on holidays there, to Qatar as well as Dubai. I am happy because for sure it will be my last international tournament.”

Messi has never won a World Cup, but he did lead Argentina to the finals in 2014, where his squad lost to Germany in extra time. His home club made it to the quarterfinals in 2006 and 2010, and was eliminated in the round of 16 in 2018. Messi, however, won the Copa America last year.

When asked about the Argentinian National Soccer Team, Messi was confident about his club, but admitted that they were not the odds-on favorites.

“We’re at a very good moment, with a very strong group, but anything can happen at a World Cup. All the matches are difficult, that is what makes a World Cup so special because the favorites are not always the ones who end up winning or even doing as well as you expect,” said Messi. “I don’t know if we are the favorites, but Argentina in itself is always a candidate for history, for what it means. We are not the favorites. I think there are other teams that are above us.”

Like his fellow soccer legend, Ronaldo has not lifted a World Cup trophy either, but he has captured the Euro 2016 title. The Portuguese forward said last year that when he feels his body is no longer responding in the field, then it will be time to hang up his cleats. He said he wants to continue his studies after retirement.

“The moment my body is no longer responding in the right way on the field, then it would be the time to leave,” Ronaldo said. “My success in my field is the result of hard work, and a way of living. I work continuously to improve my mental and physical abilities. I aspire to continue my studies after retiring from soccer.”

Aside from Messi and Ronaldo, Brazilian soccer superstar Neymar has likewise said that the upcoming Qatar World Cup could be his last.

“I think it’s my last World Cup,” the 30-year-old Neymar said. “I see it as my last because I don’t know if I have the strength of mind to deal with soccer anymore. So I’ll do anything to turn up well, do everything to win with my country, to realize my greatest dream since I was little. And I hope I can do it.”

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