Cristiano Ronaldo, Russia 2018, 6.20.18

Confession: I think Lionel Messi is the best soccer player ever. And I have, for a long time. But there have been various moments over the last two years that I’ve looked at what Cristiano Ronaldo’s done, particularly on the biggest stages, and had to reconsider.

I’m not willing to say Ronaldo is better than Messi. Yet. But yes, I am willing to reconsider.

It started two summers ago, when Portugal won the European Championship. Ronaldo wasn’t otherworldly or anything, but he was the focal point of a team that won a major international competition, scoring three times in seven games along the way. It wasn’t the most convincing piece of evidence, and Portugal wasn't even that good. But it was something new, and leading a team to a major title is worth something, no matter the underlying form.

Then there’s the UEFA Champions League performances, where he’s been the competition’s leading scorer for six seasons in a row. In four of those years, he’s led Real Madrid to the title, including at the end of each of the last three tournaments. He’s now 20 goals ahead of Messi on the all-time Champions League scoring list, and with his time at Manchester United, this teams have won the world’s highest club honor on five occasions.

And now, we’ve got this World Cup, where after Portugal’s 1-0 win on Wednesday over Morocco, Ronaldo has scored four times in two games. This would be an impressive total for an entire tournament, let alone through two games, yet it hasn’t even mentioned the most impressive part of his tournament. After two games, Portugal – a team that’s 2-2-3 over its last two World Cups – is 1-0-1, at the top of their group, and could go through with their first group win since 2006. In a group that includes one of the pre-tournament favorites, Spain, that’s a reasonably high bar.

So much of this is about Ronaldo. He scored his team’s only goal on Wednesday. He scored all his team’s goals on Friday. And, if you look at the team he has around him, there isn’t so much standout talent that makes it obvious the A Seleçao should be competing at this level.

Except Ronaldo. He’s clearly worthy of this level, if not more. He’s rewritten the Champions League record books, snared a European title and may actually be ready to make Portugal knockout-round relevant.

Maybe it’s time people like me reconsider what he’s done, and reconsider in a way that makes for more than an easy post lede. Maybe we should be willing to admit that Ronaldo truly has a claim to Messi's honor.

The results

Spain kept pace with Portugal in Group B with their 1-0 win over Iran, with Diego Costa’s third goal of the competition also keeping him on Ronaldo’s heals.

And in the day’s Jan Brady match, Uruguay snared a lead and held out against Saudi Arabia, giving everybody plenty of time to catch up on their taxes and renew their library cards as a particularly dull 1-0 played out.

The victory put both Uruguay and Russia into the knockout round, with La Celeste needing a final group-stage match victory over the hosts to snare first in Group A.

The details

Too much to get to, today. Let’s cut the copy short.

1. Here is Spain's Gerard Pique being nice to a bird.

2. This is low-key historic. Women are not allowed to attend soccer matches in Iran. Today, though, the stadium ban was lifted to allow everybody to watch the country’s match against Spain.

3. That chant that Mexican players and their federation and most of the world wants Mexico fans to stop doing is, in fact, still being done by Mexico fans, with the FMF being fined $10,000 by FIFA for their fans’ behavior this weekend.

4. This is easily one of the best parts of each World Cup: seeing how people, all over the world, are enjoying the tournament. Set your eyes on Tunisia:

5. From our file on pure randomness, check out this story on what they’re doing with all the former drug testing facilities in Sochi, Russia, former site of the Winter Olympics:

6. Speaking of Ronaldo, the man tied Hungarian legend Ferenc Puskás, today, as one of the most prolific goalscorers in European soccer history. Too bad he still has one major mountain to summit:

Puskás, incidentally, was part of yesterday’s Inside PTFC post, though I didn’t refer to him by name. You might recognize him on one of the lineup schematics, referred to as “CF -> AM.”

7. When do we get a World Cup of this?

8. Also, where is LA Galaxy digital with a shooting stars meme, when you need them?

9. And finally, let’s pour one out for the ultimate dad joke, which we can mercifully move past every man 28-60 simultaneously tweeted it, yesterday:

Guzmán and Polo

Today was a travel day for David Guzmán and Costa Rica, who made the 880-plus-mile trip from their camp in Samara to the far northwest of the country, where they’ll prepare for Friday’s match against Brazil in Saint Petersburg.

Andy Polo and Peru made their own journey yesterday, arriving in Yekaterinburg ahead of their Thursday match against France. Tomorrow, they face the group favorites at Central Stadium, where they’ll need three points to maintain control of their knockout round fortunes.

On deck

Beyond Peru’s tussle with France (8:00 a.m. PT, FOX), Denmark and Australia will resume Group C play, with the Danes looking to continue their perfect start at 5:00 a.m. PT (FOX Sports 1). In the day’s last game, Argentina will be back in action, hoping to climb over first-place Croatia in Group D play (11:00 a.m. PT, FOX)