Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi praised arch-rival Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal-scoring prowess in an interview published yesterday as speculation mounted that the Portuguese international could be picked as World Player of the Year.
A day after picking up a Golden Boot award for scoring 46 league goals last season, the 26-year-old paid respect to his Real Madrid rival.
“I don’t know if Cristiano Ronaldo is at his peak but he is always there scoring goals in all the games and taking part in his club and national side,” Messi told Spanish sports daily Marca and other European sports journalists.
“He has been doing that for many years and whether he is at his peak or a bit less makes no difference.”
The 28-year-old Real Madrid star Ronaldo is emerging as the favorite to pick up this year’s Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player over four-time winner Messi.
Ronaldo scored a hat-trick on Tuesday as Portugal beat Sweden to qualify for its fourth straight World Cup finals and he tops the Spanish league scoreboard so far this season with 16 goals in 13 matches.
Messi has 11 goals from eight games in the league this season but has been sidelined for up to eight weeks with a muscle tear in his left hamstring muscle.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy, a Real Madrid fan, told public radio he would back Ronaldo for the Ballon d’Or award if he had a vote.
“I think he is in impressive form. He is a player who gives everything. Yes, I would vote for him,” Rajoy said.
The Portuguese’s chances seemed to rise even further when FIFA announced a two-week extension to the voting deadline until November 29, citing a weak turnout, and allowing participants to change ballots already cast.