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Champions League: Cristiano Ronaldo out-duels Lionel Messi in icons' first meeting in two years (video)

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Fans around the world may have had to wait for the sixth and final match day of the 2020-21 UEFA Champions League group stage, but finally neutrals everywhere got their wish: Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo — the greatest two players of their generation and perhaps of all time — squaring off on the same field for the first time in more than two years.

The potential matchup between the two living legends has been eagerly anticipated since the first round draw took place in October. But when Messi’s Barcelona traveled to Italy to take on Juventus later that month, Ronaldo was forced to miss the match after contracting COVID-19 while on international duty with Portugal. Juve missed its star man, too, as Barca ran out 2-0 winners in Turin.

But the visitors returned the favor in Tuesday’s rematch, with Ronaldo scoring twice in a convincing 3-0 win that vaulted Juventus over Barcelona to clinch the top spot in Group G. The hosts advanced as runner-up.

Meetings between Messi and Ronaldo used to be commonplace when both men played in Spain from 2009-2018. The two icons’ clubs faced off twice annually in La Liga for each of those nine seasons, and they also met frequently in high-stakes Spanish cup games.

But when Ronaldo departed Real Madrid after nearly a decade to join the Serie A titans in the middle of the 2018 World Cup, it left the Champions League, Europe’s top club competition, as the only stage able to showcase the pair against each other. Still, there was no guarantee the meeting would happen in the lead-up to this week’s marquee clash at Barcelona’s Camp Nou stadium.

Juventus' Portuguese forward Cristiano Ronaldo greets Barcelona's Argentinian forward Lionel Messi (R) before the UEFA Champions League group G football match between Barcelona and Juventus at the Camp Nou stadium in Barcelona on December 8, 2020. (Photo by Josep LAGO / AFP) (Photo by JOSEP LAGO/AFP via Getty Images)
Juventus's Cristiano Ronaldo (left) and Lionel Messi (right) met on the field Tuesday for the first time in more than two years. (Josep Lago/Getty Images)

With both teams all but already qualified for the knockout stage, Barca coach Ronald Koeman and his Juve counterpart, Andrea Pirlo, could have chosen to save the 30-something pair for more meaningful games. Both teams have ground to make up in their own domestic leagues; Juventus, which has won the last nine Italian titles, sits fourth in the race for the Scudetto, while Barcelona is languishing in ninth place in the Spanish top-flight following last weekend’s shocking loss to Cadiz.Yet both managers opted to give the masses what they wanted by including the superstars in their respective starting lineups.

Once the action got underway, Ronaldo promptly sent the visitors on their way to victory, drawing a penalty that he converted himself just 12 minutes into the contest:

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Besides the high-profile Messi-Ronaldo matchup, the game also featured a delicious one for fans of the United States men’s national team. USMNT midfielder Weston McKennie, who signed for Juve in September, also got the start, as did Barca fullback Sergino Dest, the Dutch-raised American enjoying an impressive maiden season with Messi’s side.

On a day when everything went right for Juve, McKennie doubled the Italians’ lead with a spectacular leaping scissors kick off a pass from Juan Cuadrado. It was the Texan’s first goal for the club since joining from Germany’s Schalke:

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Ronaldo sealed the the points for his team with another spot-kick that made it 3-0 early in the second half. Messi, meantime, had a frustrating evening; the Argentinian’s best effort came afterward off a looping header that caromed harmlessly off the top of Gianluigi Buffon’s crossbar.

Messi, 33, has four career European titles, all with Barca. The 35-year-old Ronaldo has five: four with Real, and one during his days with Manchester United. Juve last won the Champions League way back in 1996.

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