Quarterfinal streak ends as Messi, Ronaldo both eliminated
Back before iPhones, Twitter and Instagram even existed, there was Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo — or both — in the Champions League quarterfinals.
Not this time.
The two greatest players of the current generation were eliminated from the competition this week, the first time both failed to reach the quarterfinal stage in the same year since 2005.
“It’s a shame because both are great players who normally go very deep in this tournament, but we have to accept it,” Barcelona coach Ronald Koeman said after Messi and his teammates were ousted by Paris Saint-Germain on Wednesday.
Barcelona entered its match against PSG trailing 4-1 from the first leg, so expectations were low. Messi responded to Kylian Mbappé’s opening goal with a incredible strike and, just before halftime, lined up for a penalty. Barcelona fans were certainly dreaming that another 2017-style comeback was possible, but goalkeeper Keylor Navas saved it. The match ended 1-1, allowing PSG to advance.
Juventus was eliminated by Porto the night before after Ronaldo and teammate Álvaro Morata just missed blocking a free kick from Sérgio Oliveira in extra time. Lined up in a wall, both turned their backs and the ball passed through Ronaldo’s legs and into the goal. Porto advanced on away goals after the matchup ended 4-4 on aggregate.
Ronaldo has won five Champions League titles — one with Manchester United and the rest with Real Madrid, including three straight from 2016-18. Messi has spent his entire career with Barcelona and has won four Champions League titles, though he was injured for the 2-1 victory over Arsenal in 2006.
The two have even met in the final, with Messi and Barcelona beating Ronaldo and Man United 2-0 in 2009. Messi scored the second goal.
Don’t count either player out for next season. Messi, who turns 34 in June, could leave Barcelona at the end of the season but he will likely be picked up by one of the best teams in Europe. Ronaldo is 36 and is still the kind of player who can turn games in his team’s favor.
Messi has won a record six Ballon d’Or awards as the best player in soccer. Ronaldo has won the award five times.
The younger players are catching up, however.
Erling Haaland, who was only 4 years old the last time both Messi and Ronaldo failed to reach the quarterfinals, scored two goals on Tuesday to help Borussia Dortmund advance. And Mbappé became the youngest player — at 22 years and 80 days — to score 25 Champions League goals with his penalty against Barcelona.
The previous record holder was Messi.
“Thanks football,” Mbappé posted on his Instagram Story along with a photo of himself with Messi from Wednesday’s match, “to give me this opportunity to live this dream every day.”
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By KEN MAGUIRE
AP Sports Writer