Argentinian footballing legend Diego Maradona says he preferred compatriot Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo all the while dubbing the Portugal captain an “incredible” player.
“I can’t remember having seen Lionel Messi play badly,” Maradona told TyCSports.
“I prefer Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo but I acknowledge that the latter is an animal. He’s incredible,” said the 1986 World Cup winner.
Speaking from Dubai, where he now lives, Maradona added that he’d wished Ronaldo, who is Portuguese, was Argentinian.
“He makes me think of Gabriel Batistuta,” the Argentina striker who starred at three World Cup finals. “As soon as he touched the ball, it was a goal.”
Turning back to Messi, Maradona said the Barcelona player was still the world’s best despite not having won a World Cup.
“Alone, he will not be able to win the World Cup. You need a solid team for that.
“Football history will remember Messi,” said Maradona.
“Football has given him a lot, as much as he has given the sport and to win a World Cup, in my opinion, wouldn’t bring himself anything else.”
Cristiano Ronaldo brushed off speculation about his Real Madrid future, although Portugal conceded a late equaliser in a 2-2 draw with Mexico at the Confederations Cup on Sunday.
Ronaldo teed up Ricardo Quaresma to fire Portugal ahead in the first half in Kazan, but the goal was cancelled out before the break by Mexico striker Javier Hernandez’s bullet header.
Cedric Soares restored Portugal’s lead on 86 minutes, but Hector Moreno’s stoppage-time header salvaged a point for Mexico in their Group A opener.
“We could have killed off the match but it didn’t happen. The draw is a fair result without doubt,” said Portugal coach Fernando Santos, whose side wore black armbands in honour of the victims of a deadly forest fire back home.
“I would like to say something on behalf of my players. People are very sad in Portugal and the players are thinking of all those who are suffering from what’s happened.”
Portugal players will wear black armbands against Mexico in the today to honour compatriots that passed away from forrest fires. RIP. pic.twitter.com/rVjDCfnCWO— TheCRonaldoFan (@TheCRonaldoFan) June 18, 2017
Mexico coach Juan Carlos Osorio said his team deserved their point but admitted there was work to be done going forward.
“Hector Moreno’s goal handed Mexican football a huge result,” he said.
“We still need to work on our finishing, we’re not efficient enough in the final third of the pitch.”
“The next match will be very tough because New Zealand will give it their all.”
Ronaldo, 32, is reportedly furious over a tax probe into the off-shore accounts dealing with his image rights, and has reportedly vowed to leave Spain.
According to Spanish paper Marca on Sunday, Real Madrid’s coach Zinedine Zidane even broke off his holiday to call Ronaldo to try to persuade his star not to quit the club.
But Portugal’s talisman was at his best in an action-packed first half in his team’s opening match, with hosts Russia and New Zealand still to come in the group.
Cristiano Ronaldo has now scored or assisted in each of his last seven games for Portugal.— Squawka Football (@Squawka) June 18, 2017
12 goals ⚽️
2 assists 🅰️
What a pass. 🙌 pic.twitter.com/JxvpKo64YD
Ronaldo’s superb volley looked to have helped Portugal take the lead, but the video assistant referee came to Mexico’s rescue after Nani had put the ball in the net.
When Ronaldo’s volley thumped the crossbar, Nani pounced on the rebound, but the video ref spotted that four players were offside.
However, Portugal, and Ronaldo, were not to be denied.
The Euro 2016 winners took the lead on 34 minutes when Ronaldo sprinted into the box and his beautifully-timed pass found Quaresma unmarked in the area.
The Besiktas winger drew Mexico’s goalkeeper Guillermo Ochoa and tapped home the opening goal.
But Mexico responded with Hernandez testing Portugal keeper Rui Patricio, before putting his side level.
Mexico’s all-time top scorer grabbed his 48th international goal from 93 appearances after some dreadful defending by Portugal.
With his goal today, Chicharito has now scored against 30 different teams while playing for Mexico. pic.twitter.com/kVy9Fz9zr2— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) June 18, 2017
Borussia Dortmund midfielder Raphael Guerreiro failed to deal with a cross into the box and Carlos Vela teed up Hernandez, who met the cross with a diving header.
After an explosive opening period, the second was a much tamer affair as both teams squandered half chances as the tempo dropped.
With time running out, Southampton right-back Cedric pounced on a loose ball and slammed home Portugal’s second goal.
But with the 90 minutes up, Mexican defender Moreno rose highest from the final corner of the game to head in the equaliser.
Lionel Messi vowed to “keep fighting” as Argentina attempt to overcome their World Cup qualifying struggles and seal their place in next year’s tournament in Russia.
The two-time world champions are fifth in South American qualifying, with only the top four teams guaranteed a place in the 2018 World Cup.
“365 days left to Russia, let’s keep fighting for the dream!” Messi wrote on his Facebook page on Thursday, as Argentina bid to avoid missing the finals for the first time since 1970.
Arch-rivals Brazil became the first side to qualify for Russia in March, but Argentina trail fourth-placed Chile by a point with four matches left to play.
Jorge Sampaoli’s side would face a two-legged play-off against the winners of the Oceania region – New Zealand or Solomon Islands – should they finish fifth.
Argentina, without the suspended Messi, crashed to a 2-0 defeat in Bolivia in their most recent qualifier, but the Barcelona star’s four-match ban for swearing at an assistant referee has since been overturned by FIFA.
He can now return when qualifying resumes in August with a clash against Uruguay, followed by matches against Venezuela, Peru and Ecuador.
Argentina have won only one of eight World Cup 2018 qualifiers played without Messi, compared to five out of six won with him on the pitch.