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Messi, Ronaldo Set For First International Clash

Geneva, Feb 8 : Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will finally meet in an international when Argentina faces Portugal on Wednesday.Longtime club rivals in the Champions League and Spain, the gifted forwards have never come
PTI February 08, 2011 16:57 IST
PTI
Geneva, Feb 8 : Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo will finally meet in an international when Argentina faces Portugal on Wednesday.

Longtime club rivals in the Champions League and Spain, the gifted forwards have never come up against each other on national team duty because the friendly in neutral Switzerland is their countries' first meeting in almost 40 years.

The historic clash arrives with Barcelona's Messi and Real Madrid's Ronaldo locked at the top of the Spanish scoring chart with 24 league goals each.

Portugal coach Paulo Bento downplayed talk of a personal duel between the two most recent winners of FIFA's world player award.

"As far as I'm concerned this is Portugal against Argentina," Bento said. "It's not about individual rivalry. I doubt whether Ronaldo or Messi see it that way, either."

The last time Ronaldo shared a pitch with Messi, Madrid slumped to a 5-0 defeat against an inspired Barcelona team in November.

Messi's mesmerizing play for the Spanish champions helped ensure that last month the 23-year-old Argentine lifted the FIFA Ballon d'Or trophy after being named the best in the world for a second straight year.

Ronaldo had previously had the edge in their rivalry, receiving the FIFA honor for 2008 when Messi was runner-up. That prize rewarded a 42-goal season leading Manchester United to the Champions League title, including beating Barcelona in the semifinals.

Messi struck back by starring, and scoring, in the 2009 final that was Ronaldo's last match for Man United before moving to Madrid.

Organizers of Wednesday's match say at least 85 countries will broadcast the match live, and the two main attractions warmed to their task at the weekend.

Ronaldo, who turned 26 on Saturday, scored twice in Madrid's 4-1 win over Real Sociedad, and Messi hit all three goals in the 3-0 victory over Atletico Madrid to extend Barcelona's league winning streak to 16.

Messi also scored in Argentina's last match, a 1-0 victory against Brazil in a Nov. 17 friendly played at Doha, Qatar.

On that date, Portugal routed World Cup winner Spain 4-0 in a Lisbon friendly to continue new coach Bento's unbeaten start since succeeding Carlos Quieroz in September.

"The match will require a different approach to the game with Spain," Bento said. "We may adopt different tactics but we want to keep our momentum and get ready for the (2012 European Championship qualifier in June) against Norway."

Bento made one squad change Monday, calling up defender Ricardo Costa of Valencia to replace Real Madrid's Ricardo Carvalho, who has injured his left thigh.

Argentina coach Sergio Batista, who replaced Diego Maradona after the World Cup, lost striker Diego Milito to a persistent hamstring injury aggravated by playing for Inter Milan on Sunday.

Both coaches have compiled winning records as their teams rebound from underachieving at the tournament in South Africa in which they might have met at the semifinal stage in Durban.

Instead, the Stade de Geneve will stage Argentina and Portugal's first meeting since June 1972 at a tournament in Rio de Janeiro to mark 150 years of Brazil's independence. Another great, Eusebio, scored that day in a 3-1 win for Portugal. AP