Argentina 2 Portugal 1: Messi - Ronaldo Duel

This was billed as a prestigious friendly between two of football's powerhouse nations, but nobody was fooled. In reality, it was all about Cristiano Ronaldo against Lionel Messi, the two best players in the world facing off. On Wednesday night, Messi just about shaded it again by dint of his last-minute winner from the spot. He is used to being victorious in these duels, this being the seventh between the superstars.

The most famous time that Ronaldo went toe-to-toe with Messi was when their images adorned the 2009 Champions League final programme underneath the tag line: "Who will be the heavyweight winner?". On that occasion it was a no contest. Messi won by a mile. The last time they came face to face in El Clasico in November, Ronaldo and his Real Madrid teammates suffered a caning, losing 5-0 to Barcelona in the Nou Camp.

This was the first time they had faced each other on the international stage. And the people of Geneva, especially football-mad children, took full advantage of the chance to see these two trying to out-do each other. It was Messi who probably had more of an influence on an encounter that was never friendly. Not nasty, just competitive.

It was a privilege to watch the 18th-minute goal, scored by Angel di Maria. The record books will show that the Real Madrid man applied the finishing touch. But the goal, really, was Messi's. He collected a ball coming over his shoulder on the full with that magical left foot. It did not seem to bounce off the shoelace, so delicate was the touch. He escaped one lunge, then another by Raul Meireles and slipped the ball inside the Portugal right back for the midfielder to find the net, the pass sitting up delightfully for him to sidefoot home.

As if stung by that, Ronaldo, who had probed and prodded on either flank to no great success, suddenly awoke. At this point it is perhaps wise to point out that there are others in the Portugal side who think themselves worthy of being in Ronaldo's company. Nani, for instance. The Manchester United man played a part in the equaliser, providing a cross that Hugo Almeida managed to nod on to Ronaldo, who beat keeper Sergio Romero to the ball and lashed high into the net. He did not celebrate. Who knows why?

Minutes later, he made a lungbusting run through the middle, brushing aside Argentina midfielder Marcos Rojo as if he was flicking away a piece of dandruff. As if it would have the nerve. His deflected shot went just wide. It was game on. It was not until the second half that the tempo increased. Ronaldo started the quicker. This time, cutting in from the flank he left Almeida with an opportunity that his colleague somehow missed.

Up went Messi to the other end and curled a free-kick that left Eduardo scrambling. Then up went Ronaldo's number. The game, such as it was, had been curtailed. The Argentine, as if to emphasise his superiority, then curled in a freekick that was deflected against the bar. And in the last minute came the coup de grace. Fabio Coentrao did not see Juan Martinez behind him and hacked away at his opponents' legs, a full second after he had played the ball through.

Messi took a four-step run-up, feinted and Eduardo fell away to his left, leaving the Barca man to sidefoot the ball in the opposite corner. He ran away holding his hands to his ears, to silence the sizeable Portuguese contingent in the sell-out crowd. He didn't need to do that. He had made his point long before.

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