Messi dazzled in Doha as Argentina beat France 4-2 on penalties at the Lusail stadium after one of the greatest ever finals ended 3-3, with the small forward scoring twice.
The 35-year-old picked up the Golden Ball for the best player at the World Cup, finishing one goal behind Kylian Mbappe in the Golden Boot race.
It was a radically different story in Qatar for Cristiano Ronaldo, who dominated football for a generation alongside Messi.
The 37-year-old, currently without a club, learned with a jolt that despite his pedigree, he is no longer an automatic starter for Portugal, a team he has managed for so long.
Ronaldo headed for the tunnel with tears streaming down his face after the team’s shock 1-0 loss to Morocco in the quarter-finals, knowing his last chance to lift the trophy had passed.
“In the five World Cups I played, always alongside great players and supported by millions of Portuguese, I gave it my all,” he said in an Instagram post.
“I left everything on the pitch. I never turned my back on the fight and I never gave up on that dream.”
Neymarwas also overcome with emotion after Brazil’s quarter-final elimination at the hands of Croatia, saying he was “psychologically destroyed” and hinting he might have been able to play his last game for his country.
The striker missed two games in Qatar through injury but came back to equal Pele’s goalscoring record with 77 goals for the Selecao.
Neymar, at 30, is significantly younger than his Paris Saint-Germain team-mate Messi, so if he wants to continue, he has every chance of playing at the next World Cup in North America and Mexico.
Pelé himself urged Neymar to ‘continue to inspire us’.
Luka Modric, who won the Ballon d’Or in 2018, surely played his last World Cup match at the age of 37.
The intriguing Real Madrid midfielder is still the man who thrilled Croatia and inspired them to the semi-finals in Qatar, four years after reaching the final against France in Russia.
After the third-place play-off against Morocco, which Croatia won, he said he would extend his international career until 2023 in a bid to win the Nations League.
Poland Robert LewandowskiThe 34-year-old finally scored the first World Cup goal of his career, in his side’s group stage victory over Saudi Arabia.
But the Barcelona striker was equivocal on whether he would be back at another World Cup after his side were knocked out by France in the round of 16.
“Physically I’m not afraid of it, but we have so many different things outside of football, your happiness is always there and what’s happening, so it’s hard to say now,” Lewandowski said.
Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavaniwho led the Uruguayan attack for a generation, finished scoreless in Qatar but did not go quietly.
Suarez, 35, tweeted angrily after their exit from the group stage, alleging Uruguay were not given the respect they were due as Cavani angrily knocked down the VAR monitor.
Germany’s former World Cup winner Thomas Muller33, failed to score and suffered the bitter disappointment of a second consecutive group stage exit.
belgian star Eden Hazard Certainly won’t be back after announcing his retirement from international football following the team’s exit from the group stage.
The Real Madrid striker was the standard-bearer for Belgium’s vaunted ‘golden generation’, who reached the 2018 World Cup semi-finals in Russia but failed in Qatar.
Gareth Bale, 33, has barely made an impact in Qatar despite playing a key role in Wales’ qualifying campaign. A single penalty against the United States was its only major impact.
He said he wanted to ‘keep going as long as possible’ for Wales but is unlikely to play another World Cup.
Current Ballon d’Or holder Karim Benzema didn’t even get a chance to say goodbye, injured before the tournament started.
The Real Madrid star has only played in one World Cup, in 2014. At 34, his chance for another may be gone forever.