With Barcelona and Real Madrid once again among the favourites for Champions League glory, the rivalry between Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo shows no signs of abating. There's even a game between Argentina and Portugal in London later this month.
But there’s another battle going on that’s even more personal. Not the subjective matter of the Ballon d’Or but a goalscoring duel – the race to claim the UEFA Champions League all-time goalscoring record.
That honour is currently held by Raul, the former Real Madrid hero, who scored 71 goals in the competition between 1995 and 2011. But with Ronaldo on 70 and Messi just a goal behind, the deadly duo are closing in on the record…
Where it began – The first goal
Messi got off the mark in the Champions League in November 2005 with Barcelona’s third goal in a 5-0 win over Panathinaikos. While the Greek side’s defending was less than impressive, the goal had many of the hallmarks of Messi’s game – a mazy dribble, real resilience to win the ball back and then a deliciously delicate touch to lift the ball over the goalkeeper. It was the start of a special campaign for player and club as Barcelona won the Champions League that season.
Despite being two years older than his great rival, Ronaldo had to wait until late in the following season before scoring his first Champions League goal. It was a night to remember for Manchester United as they crushed Roma 7-1 in the second leg of their April 2007 quarter final. Ronaldo’s moment came when Ryan Giggs found him on the right and he drove at the defender before unleashing a now-trademark shot low into the corner of the net.
The best bits – The top five goals
When Messi started out at Barcelona his speciality was cutting in from the right, dancing past challenges and stroking the ball into the far corner – a thing of beauty. But he’s been adding to his repertoire ever since. There are those deft chips lobbed over the goalkeeper, using all the dimensions available. There’s that deceptively powerful shot for a man of his size. And there’s always the dribbling. Messi can inject pace into a game at will, suddenly driving at a defence such as the way he did to see off Real Madrid in the Bernabeu in their 2011 semi-final.
Once Ronaldo got going, Champions League opponents found stopping him near impossible. In part that is due to his ability to score all kinds of goals – towering headers such as the one that did for Patrice Evra when playing against his old club United, left-footed strikes like the fierce finish against Galatasaray and wonderful team goals that highlight his one-touch link-up play with his colleagues. But it’s his ball-striking that really hits home in the highlights packages - the free-kick that made Arsenal’s Manuel Almunia look foolish and that rocket against Porto from all of 40 yards.
The glory – The Champions League wins
For all the goals, the career of a true great is about winning trophies and Messi has plenty of them to his name. The Argentine missed the 2006 triumph over Arsenal through injury but made up for that three years later when he headed the ball past Edwin van der Sar to score in a 2-0 win over Manchester United in Rome. As the star of Pep Guardiola’s wonderful team, Messi was on target in another victory against the same opponents in 2011, firing home what turned out to be the crucial second goal in a 3-1 win at Wembley.
While Messi has two final appearances and three medals, Ronaldo has three final appearances and two medals. It’s been a mixed bag for the Portuguese star in club football’s biggest game. He scored the opening goal for Manchester United in their 2008 triumph over Chelsea, although there was the trauma of seeing his penalty saved in the shootout. Ronaldo was denied by Messi’s Barcelona the following year, but had his glory moment as part of Real Madrid’s tenth European Cup win in 2014 – stroking home a penalty to cap a dramatic turnaround win over rivals Atletico.
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Given that one of the two men has been the Champions League top scorer in each of the past seven campaigns, it seems inevitable that Raul’s record will be broken this season. All that’s up for debate is who will get there first. Ronaldo will have the opportunity to take the record against Liverpool but should he not manage it, Messi will have his chance in Amsterdam on Wednesday… For these two great rivals, the race goes on…