The World Cup has ended the careers of some of the greatest players of all time. It has sometimes been different than they would have hoped as well.
One of the most infamous examples was the 2006 World Cup final when France legend Zinedine Zidane was sent off for violent conduct in what turned out to be his final act on a soccer field.
When exploring the famous players retiring from international soccer, we can’t look past the two greatest players of this generation — Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. For one, it was a sad tale and an end to a great career. For the other, it was shrouded in glory.
Although many fans had hoped that the World Cup would result in a fairytale ending for one of the pair, many analysts predicted Brazil would lift this World Cup, and they were the bookmakers’ favorite.
However, this didn’t transpire, and Argentina, initially outsiders, triumphed over France in one of the greatest World Cup games.
When online sportsbooks set the market for betting, they will rarely get it wrong. However, despite Argentina being considered one of the higher-quality teams in the competition, only a few picked them to go all the way and lift the trophy.
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The most recent recipient of the Ballon D’Or, Karim Benzema, has been sensational after guiding his club Real Madrid to the highest level of domestic competition — the UEFA Champions League.
Although it wasn’t to be, as his team lost narrowly to Argentina in the final, the vast number of accolades that Benzema has collected throughout his career shows just how much skill he possesses.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest strikers of his generation and one of the greatest French strikers of all time, he won the World Cup with France in 2018 and has won five UEFA Champions Leagues with Real Madrid.
After an explosive interview with Piers Morgan just before the beginning of the World Cup, Cristiano Ronaldo became the biggest news story in global sports. He was released from his Manchester United contract after publicly criticizing several ex-players, the current manager and the owners.
Back in 2003, under the tutelage of Sir Alex Ferguson, Cristiano Ronaldo rose to prominence as one of the most exciting players of his generation. Guiding Manchester United to domestic and European honors, he was a player that became a global superstar to football fans everywhere.
Following a then world-record transfer to Real Madrid, he won several Ballon d’Or trophies and multiple UEFA Champions Leagues, staking his claim as the second-best player of his generation and one of the greatest of all time.
Although the Portuguese hero hasn’t officially announced his international retirement, he is turning 38 in a few months. In addition, he has dropped down a few levels to play his club career in Saudi Arabia.
It would be difficult to see him competing at the 2026 World Cup when he is 41. Many journalists, fans and players have predicted this will be his last World Cup.
From defeat to glory, Messi finally put the blistering rivalry between Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi to bed following Argentina’s historic triumph in Qatar. The only trophy missing from Messi’s stellar trophy cabinet was the Jules Rimet trophy, which he has now lifted spectacularly.
Like Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi has stated he wishes to play more games for Argentina after the World Cup triumph. However, it is unlikely that he will participate in another World Cup.
Despite being two years younger than Cristiano Ronaldo, he will be 39 during the next World Cup and may not be selected if he is on the decline.
However, it would take a brave man to bet against this outcome. Messi is widely considered the greatest player of all time following his feat in Qatar, so the idea of him playing at the next World Cup is more likely than Ronaldo.
Neither has come out and stated categorically that they would be retiring. However, the 2022 World Cup will likely be the final curtain for the two best players of their generation.
Belgian captain Eden Hazard announced his retirement after Belgium was knocked out of the World Cup in the group stages.
The magical midfielder, who Real Madrid signed for a fee that would have surpassed the world record fee they paid for Gareth Bale if Hazard met all the requirements and add-ons, hasn’t quite recreated his Chelsea form for the Spanish giants.
During his captaincy for his international team, he led Belgium’s golden generation to a record third-place finish in 2018. He received the Silver Ball for the second-best player in the tournament.
Hazard would have been hoping to go out on a high, and despite only being 31, his international retirement has now been set in stone.
He was no doubt disappointed in the way Belgium crashed out of the competition. However, he has had a career to be proud of after playing over 120 games for his country.
During his leadership, the Belgium team was ranked the number one international team. Hazard should be proud of plenty of things, and even though the World Cup eluded him, many legendary players didn’t get their hands on the trophy. He joins this coveted list and can hold his head up high.
As we discussed in our introduction, the World Cup can be the crowning moment for many players or the nearly moment for equally great players. Only a penalty shootout separated glory for Lionel Messi and Karim Benzema.
Soccer is a game of fine margins, and without the outstanding save the Argentina goalkeeper made in the dying minutes of the game, this article could have had a completely different tone.
However, it seemed as though this World Cup was destined to end up in the hands of the greatest player of this century. Many analysts and fans consider this moment the final chapter of the rivalry with Cristiano Ronaldo as Messi completes his full collection of immense accolades.
Despite the fact that neither player has announced their retirement, many believe it will be their final competitive competition for their international teams. Ideally, Ronaldo and Messi will probably both want to prolong their international careers as much as possible, given their winning mentality.
As we all know, and as we have seen countless times, time always catches up with players eventually, even the greatest of them all. A new generation of talent has emerged from this World Cup, and the 2026 competition could also draw the curtain on some other legendary international careers.