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Ronaldo, Messi duel in Champions League final

Ronaldo, Messi duel in Champions League final

Ronaldo, Messi duel in Champions League final

ROME (AP) -Cristiano Ronaldo or Lionel Messi?

Forget which team wins Wednesday's Champions League final between Manchester United and Barcelona. The debate over who is the best player in the world could be decided on the field rather than by ballot.

Ronaldo has the official title right now, given to him by FIFA after his 42 league and cup goals last season helped Man United win both the domestic Premier League title and the Champions League.

Having won the English league again with Ronaldo contributing 18 goals, United could repeat its double when it faces newly crowned Spanish champion Barca at Rome's Stadio Olimpico in a final long sought by neutral soccer fans.

It's a final that pits probably the two best strike forces in club soccer. Yet the Ronaldo-Messi comparison stands out.

For the past five years, both players have been mesmerizing defenders with their footwork, hammering home goals and setting up teammates.

Different in build, they have contrasting ways of beating opponents.

Ronaldo, famed for his step-overs and long-range shooting power, uses speed to get past defenders. Messi, much smaller and with a staccato gait, plays as if the ball is glued to his feet and manages to squeeze through gaps that don't appear to be there.

Both stars can also cause so much distraction with their dribbling that defenders leave their teammates wide open in front of goal. They are invaluable to their teams and would command huge transfer fees if either team decided to sell them.

But which one is better?

It's no surprise that Patrice Evra, Man United's French defender, favors his teammate. He has faced Messi before and successfully kept him quiet when United knocked out Barca in last season's semifinals before going on to win the title.

''I was confident before the games because I train every day against players like Ronaldo, (Carlos) Tevez and (Wayne) Rooney,'' the left back said, referring to his United teammates. ''You have a lot of quality there.''

But he knows how dangerous Messi can be, given just one chance.

''Messi is a player who you can block 10 times,'' Evra said. ''But if he passes you once and scores a goal everyone says: 'Evra played very badly against Messi.'

''I need that challenge and I love to focus on that. He does amazing things. He's one of the best players in the world. Ronaldo won the (FIFA award), he scored 42 goals last season and won the Champions League. This is important. I can show Ronaldo is the best player in the world if I play well against Messi.''

Messi is aware of what sort threat Ronaldo will pose.

''They're a great team, Manchester. If you go through the whole squad, you'd be hard pushed which player to choose if you had to pick just one,'' Messi said. ''But clearly you have to start with Cristiano, a great forward who can (dribble) with speed and ease.

''And he has a great medium-range shot. We're conscious that in Rome we can't give him time to think or get a shot in from distance. He's a great footballer.''

Both teams should beware conceding free kicks and, in Ronaldo's case, within 35 yards of goal. The Portuguese star has been scoring from huge distances and has the ability to make the ball swerve, dip and sometimes change direction twice in flight.

He may also have one big advantage over Messi in Rome on Wednesday.

While Messi will again face Evra, Ronaldo doesn't have to face regular Barcelona left back Eric Abidal, who is suspended after being sent off in the semifinal against Chelsea.

While Ronaldo should start the game with that in his favor, there is a motivating factor that could give Messi the edge.

While the Manchester United star won the trophy last season, Messi missed out on Barcelona's 2006 Champions League title triumph because he was injured for the final against Arsenal. The hunger of that first title could spur the Argentine.

Perhaps Carlos Tevez, a teammate of Ronaldo's with United and of Messi's with Argentina, summed it up best.

''Everybody considers them to be the best football players in the world,'' Tevez said. ''Some people will say Messi is the best and some people will say Ronaldo is the best. For me, they are both as special as each other. To have them both on the same pitch should be great entertainment for the fans.''

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