One's a wildly talented Energizer bunny who stands for everything beautiful about the game—the guy whose jersey you want your kids to wear. The other's a bit of a punk, all style and no substance—the guy you don't want your sister dating. Argentina's Lionel Messi, 26, and Brazil's Neymar, 21, are star strikers from rival countries and polar opposites ... but lately it's hard to know who is who. One year out from the World Cup in Brazil, the soccer world is witnessing a role reversal that would make Mortimer and Randolph's heads spin. SI charted Messi's sudden downward spiral and Neymar's recent rise and found a curious turning point.
This is an article from the July 22, 2013 issue
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FIFA Club World Cup final: two goals in Barcelona's 4--0 thrashing of Santos. (Neymar is shut out.)
Fourth straight Ballon d'Or award. Best thing about Leo: He never dives.
Pelé calls out talented teen for diving: "When he is fouled, he can't make a spectacle of it."
World-club-record 73 goals.
Bar√ßa knocked out of Champions League semis 7--0 aggregate to Bayern Munich. Messi sits out second leg for fear of injury.
Brazil: four draws in five friendlies; restless fans boo.
Sits on field, pouts after Mexico upsets Brazil in gold medal game at London Olympics.
Neymar joins Messi at Bar√ßa's on $74.4 million transfer.
Stars on Brazilian telenovela; named the most marketable athlete on the planet by SportsPro magazine.
Golazo in Brazil's Confed Cup final win over Spain; collects Golden Ball trophy and named to all-tourney team.
Earns iconic number 10 jersey for Confederations Cup in Brazil; scores tourney's first goal three minutes into opener.
Wins praise for supporting "Change Brazil" on his Facebook page; says the movement inspires his game.
Investigated for tax fraud; eventually pays $13 million in back taxes.
Bails on Messi & Friends all-star exhibition game in L.A. Sponsor cites "blatant attempt to defraud Americans."
Plays in Chicago exhibition but skips out on autograph session for which 75 fans paid $2,500 apiece.