Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo are back on Friday.
265 days have passed since the last time we saw them, each with the same day, in the same stadium of the World Cup, probably with the same pain.
Lionel Messi was in Kazan, where his Argentinian team had let the second half slip 2-1 in a savage drunken shooting of a knockout game that saw France advance 4-3.
Cristiano Ronaldo was in Sochi, a thousand miles away on the shores of the Black Sea, yet with him in spirit. His Portugal team had also fallen, 2-1 in Uruguay.
They would not meet in the next round, as many had hoped. Another four years will pass without two of the greatest players in history winning the biggest prize in the game.
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For a while there was speculation that we might never see them play for their country again. They lost the next three international dates, for a total of six games.
There has never been an official explanation for the hiatus, just leaks and speculation. For Messi, it was that he wanted a break after the tumultuous Russian defeat that saw the team turn on coach Jorge Sampaoli, who was then fired. For Ronaldo, the explanation was that – after nine years at Real Madrid – he wanted to focus on his new club, Juventus.
Valid reasons? Sure. Although this has not stopped the speculation that, perhaps, we have seen the last of them.
Fortunately, it will not be so. Indeed, they will be on the field at the same time on Friday evening: Ronaldo's Portugal will host the Ukraine in a Euro 2020 match in Lisbon, Portugal (3:35 am Singapore time on Saturday), while 15 minutes later, Messi and Argentina kick off their friendly against Venezuela in Madrid.
No prizes for guessing what brought them back. These are competitors, and in the summer there is silver in play. Portugal will participate in the finals of the UEFA Nations League, a "Final Four" which will see them play against Switzerland, the Netherlands and England. Messi will take the field at the Copa America, a competition he has never won, for the fifth time.
Then, on the horizon, the 2022 World Cup looms in Qatar. It is the first Winter World Cup in the northern hemisphere, and this places it exactly 1,299 days from Friday, their return to the international scene.
Messi will be 35, Ronaldo three months less than his 38th birthday. The former would become the third oldest Argentine to play in a World Cup, after Martin Palermo in 2010 and the legendary Angel Labruna in 1958. Ronaldo would become the oldest World Cup player ever in Portugal.
If we don't talk about superstars, we wouldn't be having this conversation. But these two transcend much of what we thought was possible in the twilight of a footballer's career.
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Messi turned 31 last summer. He scored 39 goals in 37 appearances this season. Ronaldo is 34 and has 24 in 36 games in this campaign.
Pele ran nine out of 40 in the season he had turned 31 and at 34 – his last year at Santos before downgrading at the Cosmos in New York – he had 10 out of 27.
Diego Maradona? He was 10 out of 26 the year he turned 31, although his season was interrupted by a 15-month ban after positive cocaine tests. The year he turned 34, he was serving a new call, this time for failing a doping test at the 1994 World Cup. He returned and played another two years for Boca Juniors before retiring for his 37th birthday.
Let's raise Pele and Maradona not to reopen the eternal topic GOAT (the greatest of all time), but rather to note how Messi and Ronaldo challenge conventional wisdom and expectations so often that we have become numb.
It's not just continuous productivity, which you could partly rethink about how the game has changed and how talented attackers get more protection from the referees; it's the way they avoid wounds and beat their submissive bodies.
They are football machines.
Enjoy this, and be happy that their international career didn't end on June 30th.
This article first appeared on ESPN.com.
. (tagsToTranslate) football (t) Argentina (t) Portugal (t) World Cup