Check mates! Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi break internet with iconic chess photo

The world’s top two football players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, have gone viral on Instagram in an elaborate campaign for fashion house Louis Vuitton.

In a pic that has attracted 39 million likes (and counting), the pair are shown playing chess as they prepare a “last dance” for opposing teams at the 2022 FIFA World Cup.

Messi (Argentina) and Ronaldo (Portugal) were snapped by celebrity portrait photographer Annie Leibovitz with a caption that read “Victory is a state of mind”.

It was released on social media ahead of the first World Cup whistle on November 21, to a wondrous reception from the pairs millions of fans. By Thursday afternoon (AEDT), it was reportedly the second most liked photo in Instagram history,

Curiously, the pair never met for the Louis Vuitton ad. Euronews said a behind-the-scenes video shared by the fashion house showed “the image was actually photoshopped and that two sporting greats were never actually in the same room”.

It didn’t matter.

Ronaldo, the Portuguese forward with 502 million followers on Instagram, dropped the shot on his Insta earlier this week and it went viral almost instantly.

‘Genius’: Hidden details only fans picked up

As the image circulates, dedicated fans are noticing all kinds of details.

Sportbible reports the chequered Louis Vuitton briefcase on which the chessboard is perched was part of the 2018 World Cup in Russia, with the trophy “presented in it for the opening fixture and final”.

“The fact they are playing chess on the briefcase that holds the World Cup essentially represents the battle to cement their place as the greatest of all time,” Sportbible wrote.

Chess fans have also been quick to point out the placement of the pieces on the board mimics a classic match between grandmasters Magnus Carlsen and Hikaru Nakamura in Norway in 2017.

“The iconic chess match ultimately resulted in a draw between the two grandmasters, drawing parallels between the long-standing rivalry and never-ending debate between Ronaldo and Messi, as two of the greatest players to ever kick a football,” Euronews wrote.

It hasn’t been a great start to the 2022 event for Messi.

He opened his fifth World Cup with a 10th-minute penalty against Saudi Arabia. But Argentina went to suffer a shock loss to the Gulf nation – the tournament’s second-lowest ranked team – which could hurt the football titans.

Argentina must now focus on beating Mexico and Poland in its next group games if it wants to remain in the hunt for the only major football title that has eluded Messi in an otherwise glittering career.

“The truth? Dead. It’s a very hard blow because we did not expect to start in this way,” Messi said of the shock defeat to Saudi Arabia.

Nor has Ronaldo, 37, ever been in a winning World Cup side – and he and Messi could potentially face each other in the 2022 final, if all else goes to plan.

Ronaldo is preparing to play Ghana when Portugal opens its World Cup campaign on Friday (AEDT). He referenced the Louis Vuitton photo at a press conference this week, saying he would “like to be the player to checkmate Messi”.

“It happened in the chess game, and in football it would be magic,” a smiling Ronaldo said.

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