Jose Mourinho believes Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo should be considered all-time greats even if they fail to win the World Cup.
He [Messi] is great, he is great. I don't think he needs to win with Argentina to be great. Ronaldo is great; I don't think he needs to be world champion with Portugal to be great.
There is always a but - (Diego) Maradona did it, and (Zinedine) Zidane did it, and Ronaldo Nazario and Rivaldo did it. Many of the big guys did it, so everybody is waiting for them to do it.
Both Messi and Ronaldo are heading to the 2014 World Cup after busy La Liga seasons at Barcelona and Real Madrid respectively.
Argentina are expected to put up a challenge for the crown, while Portugal are likely to be pleased with an extended stay in the competition, especially considering their rocky qualification process.
All four World Cups held in South America have produced winners from the continent—1930 (Uruguay), 1950 (Brazil), 1962 (Chile) and 1978 (Argentina)—suggesting the European nation has little chance of succeeding.
Messi's Argentina will be extra motivated for success on the home patch of their fiercest rivals. The nation hasn't enjoyed a World Cup triumph since Diego Maradona thrust them to victory in 1986, while Brazil's latest victory came in 2002.
Maradona previously stated Messi doesn't need a World Cup winners' medal to be considered a great of the game, per Reuters and via Yahoo! Eurosport:
Messi doesn't need to win the World Cup to be the best player in the world.
(If he did) it would be great for Argentina, the fans and Lio, but (winning) a World Cup or not won't take away any of his achievements up to now to be among the greatest.
Argentina must negotiate Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iran and Nigeria in the group stage, a trio of matches that should be deemed winnable by Alejandro Sabella's side. Messi has just one goal across eight World Cup matches, recorded by FIFA, and will need to hit the back of the net more regularly if Argentina are to challenge.
Portugal face the difficult task of overcoming Germany, Ghana and the United States in their group. While the German threat is obvious, both Ghana and USA have shown themselves to be organised, difficult to break down and dangerous opponents on the big stage.
Ronaldo has also struggled with goals in a duo of World Cup showings, netting two in 10 games, recorded by FIFA. He is largely to thank for Portugal being at the upcoming tournament—thanks to a terrific four-goal haul across two legs in the play-off against Sweden—but will be itching to make a greater impression in Brazil.
Both players have enjoyed numerous trophies throughout their careers, won individually and part of their teams, but their lack of World Cup success will also fuel the arguments of those who doubt their legendary status.
Greats such as Eusebio, George Best, Ryan Giggs and Luis Figo never captured the trophy, but that doesn't detract from their status. Although both Messi and Ronaldo will also hope to be at the 2018 World Cup, the duo will want to perform admirably in Brazil.
If they do, there's no doubt both Argentina and Portugal have a real chance of emerging champions.