Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: What Happened When The GOATs Met for The First Time Ever?

Cristiano Ronaldo vs Lionel Messi: What Happened When The GOATs Met for The First Time Ever?

Rene Otinga
updated at May 16, 2024 at 5:32 PM
In this article:
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C. Ronaldo
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FC Barcelona
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Real Madrid
  • Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi are considered two of the best players ever
  • The pair enjoyed an iconic rivalry in Europe that spanned more than a decade
  • They clashed in a football game for the first time in the 2008 Champions League

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Every story has a beginning, and the rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi is no different.

In 2024, fans' focus has shifted slightly to contemporary talents like Vinicius Junior, Jude Bellingham, Erling Haaland, and Kylian Mbappe.

However, it is still impossible to speak about the best players in the world without mentioning two icons of the sport.

Cristiano Ronaldo Lionel Messi, 2008, GOAT, Ballon d'Or, Manchester United, Barcelona, La Liga
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi met for the first time in a football match in 2008. Photo: Jasper Juinen.
Source: Getty Images

Ronaldo and Messi’s primes are well behind them as they are plying their trade outside Europe.

The Portuguese superstar joined Saudi Arabian outfit, Al-Nassr, at the start of 2023, while Messi left Paris Saint-Germain for MLS franchise, Inter Miami.

Since the two so-called GOATS are worlds apart, chances of another competitive meeting are incredibly slim, but their rivalry during their prime remains one of the most iconic in football history.

When Ronaldo met Messi for the first time

The pair clashed in a competitive match for the first time in very different circumstances, all the way back in 2008.

At the time, 23-year-old Ronaldo was transitioning from a promising youngster known for his extravagant skills to a top marksman who could win the game for his team through individual brilliance.

Messi, then 21 years old, was a key part of the Barcelona squad but had to play second fiddle to superstars like Samuel Eto’o and former Arsenal man, Thierry Henry.

It was during the Champions League semi-final first leg at Camp Nou on April 23, 2008, when the two superstars gave fans a prelude of the rivalry that was to come.

Manchester United's Ronaldo was arguably the bigger star at the time, although there were already talks of a possible rivalry with Messi in the build-up to the clash on Europe's biggest stage.

How the game between Ronaldo and Messi's teams went

United, under the guidance of Sir Alex Ferguson, were up to the task against Frank Rijkaard’s Barcelona in a highly engaging game.

The Catalan giants dominated possession but could not break down a stubborn United defence comprising of Rio Ferdinand, Wes Brown, and Patrice Evra, with Owen Hargreaves as a defensive midfielder.

Highlights of the game show Messi playing with a lot of promise, although he was deployed just behind the main attackers, which appeared to quell his creativity.

Ronaldo, meanwhile, was part of a front three alongside Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez. The Portuguese star was guilty of missing a penalty in the match as the two teams settled for a 0-0 stalemate, according to Sky Sports.

When Man United knocked Barcelona out of UCL

Ronaldo and Messi clashed again in the second leg at Old Trafford, and the former came out on top as the Red Devils secured a 1-0 win thanks to Paul Scholes’ spectacular strike.

Sir Alex Ferguson’s side reached the final of the competition, where they beat Chelsea on penalties to become champions of Europe.

Barcelona’s gets Champions League revenge

A year later, in the 2008/2009 Champions League final, Ronaldo and Messi met for the third time, and the stakes were much higher this time around.

Bruised by heartbreak from the previous season, Barcelona, under Pep Guardiola, completely outclassed United at the Stadio Olimpico, according to CBS Sports.

Samuel Eto’o opened the scoring in the 10th minute before Messi added a second in the 70th minute. Ronaldo was subdued for large parts of the game.

Besides these iconic games, the two football greats have clashed in a match a total of 38 times, including their post-La Liga era.

When Ronaldo and R9 met

Sports Brief also previously reported on the first-ever meeting between Cristiano Ronaldo and Ronaldo Nazario on the football pitch.

The two GOATs' playing careers never overlapped, although they faced each other just once before R9 retired, thanks to Luis Figo.

Rene Otinga photo
Rene Otinga
Rene Otinga is a sports journalist with over eight years of working experience in digital media. Rene's experience includes working as a Copywriter at X News Kenya and