World Cup 2014: Despite the Early Exit, Ronaldo's Place Among the Greats Is Safe

Nick MillerFeatured ColumnistJune 27, 2014

Portugal's Cristiano Ronaldo waves as he leaves the pitch following the group G World Cup soccer match between Portugal and Ghana at the Estadio Nacional in Brasilia, Brazil, Thursday, June 26, 2014. Portugal won 2-1. (AP Photo/Themba Hadebe)
Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

The World Cup so far has been, without much question, the best tournament in a generation. This is obviously down to a number of factors, chief among which has been some astonishing team performances, with comebacks, surprises and games full of wonderful goals.

Andre Penner/Associated Press

However, another element to its success has been that many of the individual stars have "turned up."

Neymar essentially won two of Brazil's group games, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie have been exceptional for the Netherlands, Lionel Messi has four goals and has produced some moments of individual genius, Luis Suarez showed why his transgressions are so frustrating with a match-winning performance against England, and 2010 Golden Boot winner Thomas Mueller has four goals already.

And that's ignoring the performances of some of the younger stars, most notably James Rodriguez of Colombia, who has dazzled in Brazil.

However, one massive name will be missing from the latter stages. Bleacher Report world football writer Karl Matchett was quite right when he wrote on Thursday that the paucity of talent elsewhere in Portugal's squad means that Ronaldo is not likely to ever win the World Cup.

He will be 33 by the time of the next tournament in Brazil, so his best shot at international glory will come in the 2016 European Championships in France.

Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

Ronaldo was also not at his best in Brazil, scoring once and only producing the sort of brilliance of which he is capable a couple of times, most notably with the utterly extraordinary cross that produced Portugal's equaliser against the USA.

How much of this is down to injury is unclear, largely because Ronaldo addressed concerns over his knee before the USA game by saying he “would like to be 110% fit but I am 100% fit,” as per The Guardian, but he was clearly hampered throughout Portugal's three games.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Meanwhile Leo Messi and Argentina have swept rather serenely into the knockout phases and remain among the favourites to win the World Cup, something that will not help the inevitable comparisons between the two greatest players of our era.

Will this relative lack of international success have any impact on Ronaldo's legacy in the game? The prevailing theory, most recently espoused by Rob Shepherd in The Daily Mail, is that Messi must win the World Cup to be considered on the same level as Diego Maradona in Argentinean football, but is that a slightly old-fashioned view?

While this World Cup has proved that any claims of international football's demise are premature, it is relatively clear that it is no longer the highest standard of football in the world. The Champions League, for all its rights and wrongs, has created an elite competition that sits above all others.

The World Cup, with its history and prestige, is currently still regarded as the pinnacle, but in years to come the Champions League will probably usurp that.

Martin Meissner/Associated Press

Ronaldo has won the Champions League twice with two different clubs, and given the talent in his Real Madrid side, there is no reason to think he won't add one or two more titles to that list. Indeed, as per Oddschecker, Real are already joint-favourites to become the first side ever to retain the Champions League next season.

In addition, players as illustrious as Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, George Best and Eusebio, the man who Ronaldo could well replace as Portugal's greatest player of all time, never won the World Cup (indeed Di Stefano and Best never even played in one), but their legacies are secure.

Cristiano Ronaldo has 425 goals in 683 games for club and country, and he shows no signs of slowing down. Despite another World Cup disappointment, his place as one of the all-time greats is safe.