Ronaldo vs. Messi? And the Other Biggest Storylines in the World Cup Knockout Stage

The nail-biters begin on Saturday, when the two best players in the world are both in action.

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After a thrilling World Cup group stage that saw defending champions Germany sent home, minnows like Switzerland and Denmark advance, and more than few ridiculous goals, the knockout stage of the biggest tournament in sports is here.

Here are some of the storylines we’re looking forward to:

Messi vs. Ronaldo?

If the two best players in the world are to face off in the quarterfinals, they’ll first have to carry their teams to first round victories over France and Uruguay, respectively. Messi has the taller of the two tasks. The Argentine hasn’t been his usual dominant self in Russia, needing three games to score just one goal and drawing criticism from fans at home. His Argentina squad faces off Saturday against France, which is favored to win, but if the GOAT can harness his powers to lift La Albiceleste to victory, he may get to go up against Ronaldo in the quarterfinals. 

That, of course, will require Ronaldo to carry Portugal past Uruguay. Unlike Messi, Ronaldo has been brilliant in Russia, but he’s going up against a Uruguay team that hasn’t allowed a single goal in the tournament. Something’s got to give.

Brazil vs. Belgium?

While we’re dreaming of monumental clashes in the quarterfinals, let’s spend a moment on the potential of Brazil vs. Belgium. One is the most storied nation in World Cup history. The other is the trendy pick to win the whole thing this year. Both are incredible teams.

Neymar and company have a tougher path to the quarters, with a match against a surging Mexican team, while Belgium, led by Eden Hazard, plays Japan. If both teams win, as they should, the game of the tournament may be on tap as two teams chock full of attacking talent square off in what should be a goal fest.  

The Side of Death

Along with Argentina, France, Uruguay and Portugal, the left side of the World Cup bracket also includes Brazil, Mexico and Belgium. That’s four of the top five teams in the world. As ESPN noted, the “side of death” also features 10 all-time World Cup titles and 16 appearances in the final. The right side, meanwhile, has two total titles and three finals appearances. 

Easy Paths for Spain and England 

Spain and England are the only two teams on the right side of the bracket with a World Cup title and they appear to be on a collision course for the semis. Each nation has to first get past formidable, but lesser competition to make the final four of the World Cup. If they succeed in that, they’ll take on one another for the right to face a team coming out of the brutal “side of death.” Not a bad position to be in. 


Despite fears of racism in the lead up the World Cup, Russia has been free of any headline-making incidents. The same cannot be said of Telemundo, the Spanish TV network which suspended two hosts after they made offensive gestures aimed at South Korea’s national team. FIFA is no doubt hoping this is the beginning and the end of racist incidents related to the World Cup, but there are still a few more weeks for people to do something stupid.