MOSCOW. — First, Lionel Messi. Then, Cristiano Ronaldo. In a matter of hours on Saturday, soccer’s biggest names were knocked out of the World Cup, ousted by better opponents and overshadowed by players of immense ability. Their tournaments ended in the round of 16, an appropriate exit ramp for underwhelming sides that were overly dependent on their superstars.
Many a great player has never won the World Cup, and it seems ever more likely that Messi and Ronaldo will end up on that list.
Messi is 31 now, still a master of the close-quarters dribble and the quick strike. Ronaldo is 33, still capable of scoring productively for club and country and howling into a referee’s face after receiving a yellow card for dissent.
The desire remains, but so does the frustration. For all of their individual wizardry, neither has conjured a goal in the knockout phase of his sport’s essential tournament, and now they are both out of it again after being upstaged by opposing players on Saturday, the opening day of the round of 16. On a near-cloudless afternoon by the Kazanka River, Messi and his Argentine teammates were overrun and outmaneuvered by a French team full of skill, speed, youth and, for the first time in this tournament, goals.