AS WELL as he plays at Euro 2012, Portugal star Cristiano Ronaldo cannot escape from the shadow of the absent Leo Messi, his rival for the title of best player in the world.

Messi has been acclaimed as the best there is three times to once for Ronaldo, but their battle for supremacy is an interesting sideshow in the Real Madrid versus Barcelona battle, while both are constantly reminded that, unlike Pele and Diego Maradona, they have never won an international title.

Lip-reading supporters of the beautiful game maintain Ronaldo shouted out "Messi" after his goal against the Czechs - although the former insists he was dedicating his effort to his son, Cristiano Junior.

He did, however, note amid criticism of his first two performances here that Messi was "this time last year exiting the Copa America" with hosts Argentina in the quarterfinals. Former Real star Alfredo di Stefano has now entered the debate, telling Portuguese daily Diario de Noticias he is with Ronaldo in the "who is best" argument.

"I have not seen all the Euro 2012 action but Cristiano Ronaldo is having a fantastic tournament. He scored a really great goal against the Czech Republic. He is a very complete player - a striker who is there to score goals," said the Argentina-born Real legend.

Yet Di Stefano admits he has a special reason to give Ronaldo the nod - and not necessarily on the grounds of talent.

"Messi and Cristiano are two huge players, but I want to single out as the best in the world a player from Real Madrid," he explained.

Real defender and Portugal star Pepe, a close friend of Ronaldo, also makes his colleague his No1.

"Cristiano is the boss. He always wants to improve and give the maximum and he has shown again he is the best in the world - not just of this world either - I'd say he is out of this world, an extraterrestrial."

Former Portugal striker Nuno Gomes is another who backs his compatriot. "We hope Portugal get to the final and that Cristiano Ronaldo continues to beat records. By the end of his career he will have beaten all the records there are - he is really the best player in the world," insisted the former Benfica star.

Messi, who currently is back in Argentina, has tried to skirt around the debate.

"I have nothing to say," he said. diplomatically. But he did say he wanted Spain, whom Portugal play in the semifinals, to win the tournament. "I have to admit I am not really following the Euros and I don't have a clear favourite, but I'd like Spain to win given all the friends I have over there."

Sapa-AFP