Real Madrid galacticos past & future meet

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Image caption: Cristiano Ronaldo and Kylian Mbappe last shared a pitch in a competitive match in 2018

Growing up, Kylian Mbappe had pictures of Cristiano Ronaldo on his wall. On Friday, Mbappe will be up against Ronaldo in the flesh.
France and Portugal face-off in the quarter-finals of Euro 2024. While multiple world-class players will be in action for both sides, it is hard to escape this being a gladiatorial duel between Ronaldo and Mbappe.
This is not the first time the two icons have shared a pitch. They met in the 2017-18 Champions League last 16, when Real Madrid comfortably beat Mbappe’s PSG 5-2 on aggregate – on Ronaldo’s way to a fourth and final Champions League trophy in Spain.

Mbappe was yet to break into the senior France squad when they were beaten by Ronaldo’s Portugal in the Euro 2016 final, while Ronaldo scored twice in a 2-2 draw in the group stages to help Portugal reach the knockouts at Euro 2020.
This game in Hamburg has a totally different context to the Champions League meeting six years ago. Back then, Mbappe was a 19-year-old on loan from Monaco – full of potential and the subject of hype, but far from the finished product.
Now he is 25, widely regarded as the world’s best player and the man on whose slim shoulders France’s hopes of a first European title since 2000 rest – at times in this tournament quite uneasily.
Mbappe will this summer move to Real Madrid, where he is expected to be the main man. The focal point and grand attraction. That was the role served by Ronaldo in his prime.
Six years on, Ronaldo – away from playing his club football in Saudi Arabia – is still a focal point who grabs attention.
The 39-year-old’s role in the Portugal team is the subject of great discussion after a last-16 display against Slovenia summarised by wayward free-kicks, a saved penalty and floods of tears.
Yet Ronaldo can still deliver when it counts, tucking away his spot-kick in the shootout – though it was goalkeeper Diogo Costa who took the spotlight with three successive saves.
Can Mbappe surpass Ronaldo in Madrid?
So that’s the plot to the showdown under the Friday night lights. A former Real Madrid legend against someone who hopes to achieve that status.
If this was a Hollywood script, the likely narrative would have this as the moment where the baton is passed, France beat Portugal and Mbappe fully assumes Ronaldo’s former mantle.
But football does not work to schedule, as Ronaldo knows. When he was 25, Portugal were dumped out in the last 16 at the 2010 World Cup by eventual winners Spain – and he would have to wait another six years to get his hands on an international trophy.
By 2010, Ronaldo had won three Premier League trophies, a Champions League and his first of five Ballons D’Or. Up against Pep Guardiola’s all-conquering Barcelona side, his Real Madrid gold rush had yet to begin.
Mbappe in comparison has seven Ligue 1 titles, albeit six of them in a PSG side with vastly greater resources than their competitors in France, and no Champions League trophy yet.
He does, however, have something it looks increasingly like Ronaldo shall never possess – a World Cup winner’s medal, collected in 2018 aged just 19.
So might Mbappe surpass Ronaldo at Madrid if he follows a similar path? It seems likely. Barcelona are a reduced force compared to the one Ronaldo encountered in his early days. There is no Lionel Messi nor Guardiola.
Real Madrid are reigning champions both domestically and continentally, and will only be strengthened by Mbappe’s arrival.
Ronaldo scored 33 goals in 35 games during his first season at Madrid – a tally Mbappe surpassed in five of his seven campaigns at PSG, and which seems eminently reachable in 2024-25.
Mbappe has scored 287 goals in his club career to this point, while Ronaldo netted just 118 before joining Madrid. While Mbappe has sometimes played centrally for PSG, both men primarily occupied wide areas in their pre-Bernabeu days.
After below-par tournaments, a time to shine
Image caption: Mbappe and France squeezed into the quarter-finals thanks to a late own goal against Belgium
Off the pitch, Mbappe has some catching up to do. Ronaldo remains an icon in Madrid, has a hotel bearing the CR7 branding in the city, attracts more than half a billion followers across his social media accounts and even has a galaxy named after him.
But Mbappe, having been the star attraction and huge selling point of PSG during his time there, will be placed on a similar pedestal once he arrives in Madrid.
Before all those bells, whistles and social media debates, the small matter of a Euro 2024 quarter-final.
Neither man has set the tournament alight so far. Mbappe looks hampered by a range of issues – including a broken nose from the opening game against Austria and having to play in the discomfort and distraction of a protective mask.
France’s style of play, as evidenced by their lacklustre last-16 win over Belgium, is characterised by stodginess and a need for everything promising in attack to go through Mbappe. When he is crowded out or out of form, the system does not work – leading to the pre-tournament favourites failing to score from open play in four matches in Germany.
Questions of Ronaldo, meanwhile, focus around whether he should even start after two below-par, goalless showings against relative minnows Georgia and Slovenia, where at times the bright attacking talent Portugal possess seemed actively hampered by the presence of a man more than a decade older than his team-mates.
Will such a grand occasion as this quarter-final bring the best out of one or both of these men? We wait with baited breath.
If it is Mbappe who comes out on top, the journey from doe-eyed child admiring posters of Ronaldo to being the sport’s undisputed poster boy will surely be complete.

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