MANCHESTER, United Kingdom (AFP) – Cristiano Ronaldo’s latest duel with Lionel Messi proved a damp squib as the two superstars played for just 45 minutes of Portugal’s 1-0 friendly win over Argentina at Old Trafford on Tuesday.
The 27th meeting between Portugal winger Ronaldo and Argentina forward Messi had been billed as a golden opportunity for the world’s two best players to underline their credentials for this year’s Ballon D’or award.
Between them, current holder Ronaldo and Messi have won the past six coveted Ballon D’Or contests, awarded to the player voted the world’s best by managers, players and journalists.
But neither Barcelona’s Messi nor Real Madrid’s Ronaldo were anywhere near their brilliant best, with the latter especially anonymous on just his second return to Old Trafford since his 2009 move from Manchester United.
In the end, Portugal claimed only their second win over Argentina, and their first since 1972, thanks to Raphael Guerreiro’s diving header in stoppage-time.
Despite the presence of Ronaldo and Messi, fan interest had been tepid and the disappointing attendance of 41,233 provided a suitably low-key backdrop to a forgettable encounter which proved the stay-aways had got it right.
Inevitably, all eyes were on the sport’s two marquee figures, whose relationship is said to be on the frosty side, when they emerged onto the pitch after exchanging a brief handshake and rather strained smiles in the tunnel.
Ronaldo was given a warm welcome by his old fans, who also made an extra effort to make the United legend feel at home by aiming a few jeers at Messi when the Argentine was in possession.
Messi didn’t look bothered by that inhospitable reception and he provided the first chance when his pass picked out Angel di Maria, with the Manchester United winger curling just wide from the edge of the penalty area.
Messi gave a glimpse of his dazzling close-control when he worked space for a low shot that flashed across goal from an acute angle. But there was a worrying moment for United manager Louis van Gaal when Di Maria went down in a crumpled heap after being caught on the foot by a late challenge, ironically from Nani, who remains on United’s books despite being loaned to Sporting Lisbon.
With United plagued by injuries at present, Van Gaal, watching from the stands, must have breathed a sigh of relief when Di Maria returned to the fray.
A rare moment of attacking ingenuity saw Argentina’s Javier Pastore force Beto into action with a save from Facundo Roncaglia’s cross.