Fair play to Argentina coach Jorge Sampaoli.
Faced with global humiliation and national disgrace after his confused decision-making led to the 3-0 humbling by Croatia, he did not duck a single question.
Even when asked to take a swig from the poisoned chalice and compare Lionel Messi to Cristiano Ronaldo, Sampaoli gave a colourful answer.
He said: “Ronaldo is a great player but right now we shouldn’t compare these two players because of the reality of the Argentinian squad – it clouds Leo’s brilliance. Leo is limited because the team doesn’t gel with him as ideally as it should.”
Messi is facing the grim prospect of a first-round exit at what could easily be his last World Cup, while Ronaldo leads the Golden Boot standings with four goals.
So it would be comforting for the Argentine maestro to imagine that, at this World Cup, the timeless Messi-Ronaldo debate is not being contested on an even playing field.
Except that, despite Portugal’s status as European champions, most of their squad is pretty ordinary too.
It would be difficult to argue that it is any stronger than Argentina’s – although in goal, Wolves’ new recruit Rui Patricio is world class for Portugal, while Willy Caballero’s almighty blunder gifted Croatia their first goal on Thursday.
Of course, the Messi-Ronaldo debate can seem tiresome and needless.
Some get angry if you suggest Messi is greater than Ronaldo. Others get livid if you say Ronaldo is greater than Messi. Others work themselves into a swivel-eyed rage if you even have the debate at all.
If you’re an aesthetic type, you’d tend to favour Messi’s subtleties, his grace and guile.
If you’re a pragmatist, you’d go with Ronaldo’s supreme athleticism, superior power and all-round magnificence.
It’s not so much like comparing the Beatles and the Stones, as apples and oranges.
Really we should simply be marvelling at two such all-time greats competing in the same era of mass televised coverage.
Both men have five Ballon D’Ors, while Ronaldo now has five Champions League to Messi’s four.
Since the pair have been head to head in La Liga with world football’s two greatest rivals, Barcelona and Real Madrid, Messi has six domestic titles to Ronaldo’s two.
A clear sign, there, that Messi has been operating in a superior club team – especially in the era of the peerless midfield trio of Xavi, Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets.
But in a conversation leaked to the Spanish press this week, Atletico Madrid boss – and proud Argentinian – Diego Simeone came down in favour of Ronaldo.
“Messi is very good but he is very good because he is accompanied by extraordinary players,” Simeone said.
“But if you had to choose between Messi and Ronaldo for a normal team, who would you choose?”
And that is why in Russia there finally appears to be a shaft of daylight between the two modern-day legends. (Agencies)