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Despite his recent injury, Cristiano Ronaldo is expected to feature for Al Nassr vs. Lionel Messi's Inter Miami on Feb. 1 in Saudi Arabia. The game is being billed as "the Last Dance" between these two great soccer rivals with no guarantee that the 38-year-old Portuguese star or the 36-year-old Argentinian meet again after this one. Ronaldo vs. Messi one last time is as good an opportunity as any to revisit what has been the defining rivalry in European soccer over the past two decades to trace it back to its origins and to chart its progression not just at club level but internationally and also in terms of individual awards.

This is the full history of the battle for supremacy between two exceptional soccer players.

Manchester United-Barcelona era

UEFA Champions League semifinals first leg, April 23: Barcelona 0, Manchester United 0
UEFA Champions League semifinals second leg, April 29: Manchester United 1, Barcelona 0

Ronaldo and Messi met for the first time when Manchester United and Barcelona met in the 2007-08 UEFA Champions League semifinals. The Portugal international missed a first leg penalty but it was the Red Devils who advanced to the final 1-0 over two legs through a Paul Scholes goal. Ronaldo scored in the 1-1 draw with Chelsea in Moscow but missed his penalty in the 6-5 shootout win at Luzhniki which was the first of what would be five UCL successes for CR7.

UEFA Champions League final, May 27: Barcelona 2, Manchester United 0

The following year pitted United against Barca again but this time in the final at Stadio Olimpico in Rome. Ronaldo's Red Devils were defending champions, but they went down 2-0 to Messi's irresistible Catalan giants with the South American scoring the second goal of the game with a header to seal the Blaugrana's third Champions League title, but Messi's first major one having been injured and unavailable when Barca won in 2006 which also landed the Argentina international a medal which forms part of his four-time UCL haul.

El Clasico era

La Liga, Nov. 29: Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 0
La Liga, April 10: Real Madrid 0, Barcelona 2

Following that heartbreak, Ronaldo left United for Barca's bitter rivals Real Madrid for just over $100 million which signaled the start of arguably the defining club and player rivalry of this century. However, in their first meeting as El Clasico opponents, it was Barca's Zlatan Ibrahimovic who scored the only goal in a 1-0 win. It took until the second meeting between the two for either to make a decisive blow with Messi scoring his 40th goal of that season in a 2-0 victory for the Catalan outfit to firmly start his Spanish rivalry with Ronaldo on the front foot.

La Liga, Nov. 29: Barcelona 5, Real Madrid 0
La Liga, April 16: Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 1
Copa del Rey final, April 20: Barcelona 0, Real Madrid 1
UEFA Champions League semifinals first leg: Real Madrid 0, Barcelona 2
UEFA Champions League semifinals second leg: Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 1

The back end of the next season saw Real and Barca meet four times in what essentially was billed as a decider between the two as to who could consider themselves the world's best soccer player at that moment. The two scored a penalty each in a 1-1 draw in La Liga in April before Ronaldo's penalty in extra time secured Los Blancos the Copa del Rey at the Blaugrana's expense which was also Jose Mourinho's first trophy at Santiago Bernabeu. Next up was the Champions League semifinal first leg which boiled over with Pepe sent off for Real and Mourinho as well as backup goalkeeper Jose Manuel Pinto dismissed to the stands yet Messi still produced two brilliant goals to seize the advantage for Barca. The Argentinian scored three goals to Ronaldo's two over the four games and Messi scored as Pep Guardiola's brilliant Barca side beat familiar foes United – without CR7 -- by three goals to one in London.

Spanish Supercopa leg 1, Aug. 14: Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 2
Spanish Supercopa leg 2, Aug. 17, Barcelona 3, Real Madrid 2
La Liga, Dec. 10: Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 3
Copa del Rey quarterfinals first leg, Jan. 18: Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 2
Copa del Rey quarterfinals second leg, Jan. 25: Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 2
La Liga, April 21: Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 2  

The following year was better for Ronaldo individually as he scored in each leg of the Copa del Rey quarterfinals yet it was Messi and Barca who advanced 4-3 over the two games. The Portuguese also score as Real won El Clasico 2-1 at Camp Nou on their way to winning the 2011-12 La Liga title.

Spanish Supercopa first leg, Aug. 23: Barcelona 3, Real Madrid 2
Spanish Supercopa second leg, Aug. 29: Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 1
La Liga, Oct. 7: Barcelona 2, Real Marid 2
Copa del Rey semifinals first leg, Jan. 30: Real Madrid 1, Barcelona 1
Copa del Rey semifinals second leg, Feb. 26: Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 3
La Liga, March 2: Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 1

This was arguably the peak of Ronaldo and Messi's individual on-field rivalry with El Clasico in October of 2012 witnessing both players scoring twice in a 2-2 draw which marked goals in six straight meetings between the two sides for the former. Despite that, this was the year which saw Messi finish with an astonishing 91 goals for Barca and Argentina combined which smashed Gerd Muller's previous 85-goal haul which many had assumed would never be broken. Despite two goals in the Copa del Rey semifinal second leg as part of a run of scoring in six straight Clasico appearances at Camp Nou, Ronaldo and Real fell short in the final against bitter Madrid rivals Atletico.

La Liga, Oct. 26: Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 1
La Liga, March 23: Real Madrid 3, Barcelona 4
Copa del Rey final, April 15: Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 1

Ronaldo also had to watch the following season as Messi became the all-time top scorer in El Clasico with a hat-trick as Barca beat Real 4-3 in a thrilling contest which also saw CR7 score a penalty in what is generally regarded as their best Real-Barca encounter over the years. Ronaldo's Real won the Champions League under Carlo Ancelotti that year -- against Atleti -- which was their 10th title in the competition and sparked a run of four European crowns between 2014 and 2018.

La Liga, Oct. 25: Real Madrid 3, Barcelona 1
La Liga, March 22: Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 1

La Liga, Nov. 21: Real Madrid 0, Barcelona 4
La Liga, April 2, Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 2

La Liga, Dec. 3: Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 1
La Liga, April 23, Real Madrid 2, Barcelona 3

Spanish Supercopa first leg, Aug.  13: Barcelona 1, Real Madrid 3
La Liga, Dec. 23: Real Madrid 0, Barcelona 3
La Liga, May 6: Barcelona 2, Real Madrid 2

The only team to interrupt that Real run? Messi's Barca in 2015 with a 3-1 triumph over Juventus in Berlin -- the South American's final UCL win as Ronaldo's Merengues took center stage in Europe with three consecutive successes under Zinedine Zidane including another title ahead of Diego Simeone's Atleti. Both Messi and Ronaldo continued to rack up the goals domestically until the Portuguese left Real for Juventus in 2018 which brought an end to their direct rivalry. Messi would remain in La Liga with Barca for three more years and ultimately finish on 474 goals to Ronaldo's 311. 


UEFA Champions League group stage, Dec. 8, 2020: Barcelona 0, Juventus 2

With Ronaldo now in Italy, the only way that the rivalry could be reignited was either in Europe or internationally which is something that did not happen often during their heyday. There was one pairing of Juve and Barca in the 2020-21 edition of the Champions League when the Catalans were well and truly sick and in decline and though Ronaldo missed the home leg of the matchup it was his pair of penalties securing a 3-0 away win for the Turin giants in the group stage. That would prove to be the last time in Europe, though, with CR7's second Old Trafford fling far shorter and less fruitful than the first which resulted in a lucrative move to Saudia Arabia by the start of 2023 after a disastrous World Cup for Ronaldo and Portugal. Meanwhile, Argentina secured the ultimate title in Messi's quest for greatness despite the legendary South American's stint with Paris Saint-German at club level having been largely underwhelming.

CR7 leaves Europe

Friendly, Jan. 19: Riyadh All-Stars 4, PSG 5

Not long after signing for current club Al-Nassr, Ronaldo faced Messi again as part of a combined XI including Al Hilal players which went down 5-4 to PSG in Riyadh. Conveniently, both players scored in what might have been their final meeting with Ronaldo out-scoring Messi 2-1 in the exhibition game which as of this week will no longer be the final instalment of this great rivalry.

International legacy

Friendly, Feb. 9: Argentina 2, Portugal 1

The first of two times that this pair met internationally came in a friendly in Switzerland with Ronaldo and Messi both scoring in a 2-1 Argentina win in Geneva -- Portugal and the Albiceleste's first clash of any type in 40 years.

Friendly, Nov. 18: Argentina 0, Portugal 1

Another meeting followed three years later in a conveniently timed game at Old Trafford ahead of the 2014 FIFA Ballon d'Or which was won by Ronaldo. However, neither player scored as the Portuguese ran out 1-0 winners.

In terms of international success, both did triumph leading their respective national teams with Ronaldo captaining Portugal to the Euro 2016 title which Messi equaled in 2021 with the Copa America and then surpassed one year later with the World Cup in Qatar. Based on international titles, despite CR7 also having the 2019 UEFA Nations League to his name, Messi is often considered to win the debate as to who was the better player based on Argentinian success in the World Cup.

Ballon d'Or

Another aspect of the pair's rivalry came in the Ballon d'Or which both lost out in back in 2007 to Milan's Kaka. However, both would go on to dominate the award for years to come with FIFA even taking over the rights to the award for six editions between 2010-2015. Messi ultimately came out on top with eight titles to Ronaldo's five but their combined 13 sets the bar extremely high for anyone to follow and arguably made it impossible for generational talents such as Neymar to truly get a look in at the award.

  • 2008: Ronaldo
  • 2009: Messi
  • 2010: Messi (as FIFA Ballon d'Or)
  • 2011: Messi
  • 2012: Messi
  • 2013: Ronaldo
  • 2014: Ronaldo
  • 2015: Messi
  • 2016: Ronaldo (back to Ballon d'Or)
  • 2017: Ronaldo
  • 2019: Messi
  • 2021: Messi
  • 2023: Messi


With both players now outside of European soccer with Al Nassr and Inter Miami, there are not likely to be many more matchups between Ronaldo and Messi unless one or the other switches league which is increasingly unlikely given their respective ages. With the 2026 World Cup just over two years away, nothing can be totally ruled out -- as Messi winning the recent Ballon d'Or and FIFA Best awards showed. However, this week may well be the last time that we see these two giants of world soccer take to the field together and we should be grateful to some of the epic encounters that this rivalry has treated us to over the years.