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Pele | Maradona | Ronaldo | Lothar Matthaeus | Zinedine Zidane | Roberto Baggio | Bobby Charlton | Paulo Rossi | Gerd Muller | Johan Cruyff
Born in Tres Coracoes in1940, Edson Arantes do Nascimento or Pele as he is better known is widely regarded as one of the two greatest footballers ever to have played the beautiful game. A three time world cup winner he was the shining star of the massively talented Brazil sides of the 1950’s through to 1970. One of only two players to have scored over 1000 goals in their career, he also scored a total of 13 World Cup goals and featured in four separate World Cup finals.
As a teenager he stunned the world during the 1958 World Cup in Sweden with a succession of brilliant performances which culminated in a two goal performance in the final which Brazil triumphed by 5 goals to 2. Four years later in Chile, Pele was injured in Brazil’s opening match of the tournament and was forced to miss the rest of the finals. In 1966 at the World Cup in England, Pele was kicked out of the tournament by lesser opponents as they targeted Brazil’s star playmaker as style and beautiful football took a back seat in favour of substance and negative tactics.
In 1970, many “experts” were talking about the decline of Brazil’s legendary number 10, that his eyes were gone and that he was unable to produce the kind of performances he’d once been capable of. Pele once again dazzled football fans with another series of world class performances as the greatest team in football history romped their way to their third title. An audacious dummy around the goalkeeper and a shot from halfway were arguably his two best moments of the tournament. They were moments of sheer inspiration but also proved that he was still human – he missed on both occasions. In the final match the incredible Brazilian played a perfectly weighted ball into the path of the onrushing full back Carlos Alberto to smash into the back of the net to round off what has be described as the perfect team goal. Pele retired in 1977 after a spell in the United States.
Brazil Caps: 92
Brazil Goals: 77
World Cups: 1958, 1962, 1966 & 1970
World Cup wins: 3
World Cup appearances:
World Cup goals: 12
Diego Armando Maradona was born in Lanus, Argentina in 1960 and is the other player that fans widely regard as the greatest ever footballer. Maradona, like Pele, played in four World Cups but his appearances have veered from brilliance to controversy to infamy. The Argentine genius was overlooked in 1978 as the South American nation won their first trophy on home soil, but made his finals debut in Spain in 1982. Not quite at the peak of his powers he was unable to inspire his side to the heights required and they crashed out in the second round after defeats to Italy and Brazil where he was sent from the field of play with 5 minutes remaining.
In Mexico in 1986, Maradona hit the point of greatness only really touched by Pele as he inspired an average Argentine side to their second World title in just 8 years. His most famous match saw him line up against bitter rivals England where he scored both of Argentina’s goals, goals remembered for different reasons. The first was a piece of blatant cheating as he handled the ball past a slow reacting Peter Shilton, which he claimed was the “Hand of God.” The second will forever be remember as the greatest goal in World Cup history. Picking the ball up in his own half, he turned away from two England players, went on a slalom run through the England defence leaving players in his wake before rounding the keeper and slotting the ball home. An almost carbon copy saw Maradona repeat the trick in the semi final against Belgium where he again scored twice and despite extremely tight marking by West Germany, he laid on the winning pass for Burruchaga to seal the victory in the final.
An ankle injury prior to the finals deprived the world of seeing Maradona at his best once again and as a result, Argentina struggled. They were beaten in the opening match by underdogs Cameroon and scraped through to the round of 16. The subsequent match saw Maradona turn provider once more as he set up Claudio Caniggia to score the only goal against rivals, Brazil. Despite missing a penalty in the shoot out with Yugoslavia, Argentina progressed and after a one all draw with host nation Italy, another shoot out required. In an act of bravado, the Argentine placed the penalty in the exact same position of the goal as the penalty he’d missed the previous game. In facing their old opponents from four years before, Maradona was unable to inspire his side and the game was settled by a debateable penalty scored by Andy Brehme.
USA ’94 would be Maradona’s final World Cup. After scoring in Argentina’s 1st match against Greece, he ran wild eyed to the camera, screaming as in a drug fuelled craze. It came as little surprise that after his second game he was found guilty of taking a banned substance and expelled from the finals. It was a sad, if not unexpected end for the Argentine maestro.
Argentina Caps: 91
Argentina Goals: 34
World Cups: 1982, 1986, 1990 & 1994
World Cup wins: 1
World Cup Appearances: 21
World Cup Goals: 8
Simply known as Ronaldo, Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima was born in Rio de Janeiro in 1976. Nicknamed “O Fenomeno” (The Phenomenon), Ronaldo was part of four Brazilian World Cup squads from 1994 to 2006 and ended his finals career as the highest goal scorer in World Cup history with 15 goals.
In 1994, as a relatively unknown 17 year old he was chosen in the World Cup winning squad but was not selected to feature in any of Brazil’s seven matches.
1998 would see Ronaldo make his first finals start. The reigning double World player of the year was the standout player in a talented Brazil side that was highly fancied to win a fifth world crown. On route to a final showdown with hosts France, the jet heeled striker scored four goals and set up three for others. What should have been a momentous occasion for the 21 year old was disrupted by fits the night before the match. Looking a shadow of the player who had lit up the tournament, Ronaldo cut a sad figure as France ran out easy winners but could console himself slightly by winning the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player.
Heading into the 2002 finals in Japan and South Korea, Brazil wasn’t regarded as one of the favourites but lead by a Ronaldo, desperate to banish the memories of four years before, they triumphed and lifted their fifth title. The born-again Brazilian scored 8 times in seven matches with goals in every game apart from the quarter final against England. In the final, Ronaldo’s redemption was complete. His two goals were enough to give Brazil the title and him the Golden Shoe as the tournament’s leading goal scorer.
In 2006, there was a lot of negative press regarding Ronaldo and his weight in particular. Looking like he was carrying a number of kilo’s too many, Ronaldo struggled in the opening two games. Amidst calls from him to be dropped, he responded with two goals in a 4-1 win to put him level with Gerd Muller as the record goal scorer in finals history. In their round of 16 match against Ghana, Ronaldo wrote himself into the record books by opening the scoring and taking his tally to 15 making him the stand out goal scorer in the World Cup. Brazil fell succumbed to France in the next match but overweight or not, Ronaldo’s place in finals history was assured.
Brazil Caps: 97
Brazil Goals: 62
World Cups: 1994, 1998, 2002 & 2006
World Cup wins: 2
World Cup Appearances: 19
World Cup Goals: 15
Lothar Matthaeus was born in Erlangen, Germany in 1961. The German superstar holds the record for the most appearances in World Cup finals with 25 caps and is also the only player to appear in 5 different tournaments.
Matthaeus’ first tournament came in 1982 where he featured in two matches as the West German’s were defeated in the final by Italy.
In 1986, Matthaeus was now an established part of the German national team and had two roles in the side playing as either an attacking or defensive midfielder. In the round of 16 it was Matthaeus who scored the winner against Morocco and helped propel Germany to their second successive final. Despite being a creative force for Germany, Matthaeus was assigned to mark Maradona. It was a tactic that would ultimately fail for the German’s as they were beaten 3-2 with Maradona laying on the pass which lead to the winning goal. A mark of Matthaeus’ ability was highlighted when Maradona referred to him as “the best rival I ever had.”
At Italia ’90, Matthaeus lead the German’s once more as they again proceeded to progress through to the final. As the best team in the finals, the playmaker was the undoubted star of the team scoring four times including a brace against Yugoslavia in the group stage and the winner against Czechoslovakia in the quarter final. The final gave Matthaeus a chance to gain revenge over long term rival Maradona and atone for the two previous lost finals. A 1-0 win thanks to a Brehme penalty saw the German lift the World cup as captain as West Germany competed for the final time as a divided nation.
At USA ’94 Matthaeus made history becoming the by equalling the record for the highest amount of appearances in World Cup finals with 21. He also joined a select group of players who has played in four separate tournaments. After missing Euro ’92 through injury, Matthaeus returned to captain the side once more but this time played as a sweeper, helping defensively and launching attacks from the back in the manner of the great Franz Beckenbauer. The German’s progressed through the group stage and round of 16 and into the quarter finals where they would face Bulgaria. Matthaeus opened the scoring with a penalty, but Bulgaria stunned Germany and football fans across the world with two goals in three minutes to end Germany’s reign as champion.
It was believed that USA ’94 would be Matthaeus’ final tournament but having not officially retired from international football, he was drafted into the squad in the absence of the the injured Matthias Sammer. An unused substitute in the opening match, Matthaeus came of the bench to inspire Germany to come back from two goals down to snatch a draw with Yugoslavia. It was aslo his 22 appearance, a new record and his fifth separate World Cup appearance drawing him level with Antonio Carjabal of Mexico. Matthaeus became a fixture in the side and played in every match until Croatia eliminated them in the quarter finals, taking his total to 25 appearances, a record that will be hard to top.
Germany Caps: 150
Brazil Goals: 23
World Cups:1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 & 1998
World Cup wins: 1
World Cup Appearances: 25
World Cup Goals: 6
Born in Marseille in 1972, Zinedine Zidane was one of the greatest players to have worn the blue of France and one of only four players to have scored in two separate finals. With dual citizenship, Zidane had the chance to represent either Algeria or France, he chose Les Bleus and “Zizou” suffered the highs and the lows of victory and defeat in his two final appearances and ended his career in acrimoniuos circumstances by being sent off in the 2006 final in what was his final appearance in football.
Zidane’s first World Cup appearance took place on home soil as France hosted the 1998 finals. His World Cup career didn’t begin brightly as he was sent off for stamping in France’s second match and banned for 2 matches. Returning in the quarter final Zidane scored one of France’s penalties in the shootout victory against Italy to take them through to a semi final meeting with Croatia. It wasn’t until the final that Zidane came alive. He scored almost two identical headed goals in the first half to give France a two goal lead that they never relinquished and added a third deep into stoppage time as Emmanuel Petit slotted home. It was a performance that saw him crowned European Footballer of the year that same year.
In 2002, Zidane went into the finals carrying a thigh injury which ruled him out of Les Bleus’ first two matches. Without their talisman, the French struggled and were forced to include Zizou in the final group match to avoid elimination. It was evident from the start that he was not fit and could not inspire the French and they succumbed to a 2-0 defeat to Denmark, becoming the first defending champions to fail to progress past the group stage.
After Euro 2004, Zidane retired from International football but was pressured into coming out of retirement by Coach Raymond Domenech. Zidane responded to the call and lead France to the finals in Germany. Both France and Zidane began the tournament slowly and indeed Zidane was suspended for Les Blues’ final group match for collecting two yellow cards. Returning for the round of 16, Zizou rolled back the clock and produced a performance of sheer class as he inspired France to come back from a single goal deficit against Spain by creating a goal for Vieira and scoring France’s third himself as they ran out 3-1 winners. In the quarter final against Brazil he provided the assist for Henry to score the only goal of a match that also saw him named man of the match. A 33rd minute penalty by Zidane was enough to see of Portugal and take France to a second final in eight years. Before the final match, Zizou was awarded the Golden Ball as the tournament’s best player and began the final continuing his rich vein of form scoring a seventh minute penalty. Italy equalized and the game remained tight throughout and Buffon made a high class save to deny Zidane a second World Cup brace in extra time. Moments later, Zidane’s career was over as he planted a head butt in the chest of Italy’s Marco Materazzi after the Italian had taunted him about his sister. A red card followed and an amazing career had come to a sensational end, but not the end most had predicted. Italy went on to win the shoot out and gain revenge for Euro 2000 and Zidane ended his time in football with a runners up medal.
France Caps: 109
France Goals: 31
World Cups: 1998, 2002 & 2006
World Cup wins: 1
Runner Up: 1
World Cup Appearances: 12
World Cup Goals: 5
Roberto Baggio was born in Caldogno, Italy in 1967. Nicknamed the “Divine Ponytail” due to his sublime talent and his flowing locks, Baggio represented Italy at 3 World Cup finals scoring 9 goals. He is the only Italian player to score in three different World Cup’s and is Italy’s joint top scorer in the tournaments, tying with Christian Vieri and Paulo Rossi. A player with his ability probably deserved a winners medal, but it was not to be and a runner’s up medal in 1994 was all Baggio had to show for his endevour.
Baggio’s first tournament came in 1990 on home soil. As a 23 year old he wasn’t a fully established member of the Italian national team and his appearances at the tournament came mainly from the substitute’s bench. Despite limited playing time Baggio was able to give the Italian public a glimpse of his undoubted talent. The Divine Ponytail scored twice including a goal against Czechoslovakia that was rated as the goal of the tournament. As well as his goal scoring ability, Baggio showed his class as a man. Baggio was the allocated penalty taker but stepped aside to allow Salvatore Schillachi the opportunity to claim the Golden Shoe.
USA ’94 would be Baggio’s defining moment on the international stage. The undoubted star of the Italian side, his talent took Italy to the final. Starting all seven matches, Baggio like the Italian team, got off to a slow start failing to score in the opening three matches as Italy just made it through the group stage. In the knock out stage, Baggio came alive. On the brink of elimination against Nigeria, the Italian scored with just two minutes to go to send the game into extra time. In the added thirty minutes he added a second to put Italy through. A third goal followed in the quarter final against Spain and another brace came in the semifinal against Bulgaria. The final would see Baggio captured in one of World Cup history’s classic images. Going into the final unfit, Baggio was unbale to influence the game as he usually might. The game finished 0-0 after extra time to send the match to penalties. Needing to score to keep Italy in the match, Baggio skied his penalty over the bar to win Brazil the match. Crestfallen, Baggio stood by the penalty spot, hands on hips, staring down at the ground as if to acknowledge that this could be the moment he would forever be remembered for.
France ’98 would be Baggio’s final tournament and it would be the finals where he would become the first Italian to score in three different World Cup’s. In the first match against Chile, Baggio scored one and made one in a 2-2 draw and then scored the winner against Austria as Italy topped the group. In what would be his final World Cup appearance, Baggio came on as a substitute in the 0-0 draw with France. He scored his penalty in the shoot out, but Italy was still eliminated by the eventual winners.
Italy Caps: 55
Italy Goals: 27
World Cups: 1990, 1994 & 1998
World Cup wins: 0
Runner Up: 1
World Cup Appearances: 16
World Cup Goals: 9
Sir Bobby Charlton is one of England’s most famous footballers. Born in the north of England in 1937 he is one of England’s most capped footballers and the country’s record goalscorer with 49 goals. He is the only English player to have been to 4 separate tournaments and was a central figure in England’s sole World Cup triumph.
Charlton’s first World Cup experience came in 1958 where he was selected as part of the squad that travelled to Sweden. Despite already being an important part of the Manchester United team and having played and scored a number of times for England, Charlton never actually featured in a single match.
In 1962, Charlton was now the cornerstone of the England team. Travelling to Chile, Charlton featured in all four of England’s matches and scored in the group game against Argentina which was his 25th goal in just 38 games for his country. Sadly for England, there were no more goals and they crashed out in the quarter finals to winners Brazil.
1966 would be Charlton’s finest hour for England. With the home side struggling after a scoreless draw in their opening match against Uruguay, Charlton came to life against Mexico. Picking the ball up on halfway, he feinted away from an opposing midfielder which opened up space. Striding through the Mexican half, Charlton unleashed a sledgehammer of a shot which ripped into the back of the net from 25 yards. It freed England up and started to build some momentum. Charlton wouldn’t score again until the semi final. In the match against Portugal he netted both goals as England triumphed 2-1 to send them through to their first final. The final itself would be one of the England legend’s quieter matches as he and Franz Beckenbauer, in what would become a classic battle over the years, cancelled each other out. Nevertheless, England triumphed and Bobby embraced his brother Jack on the field and is one of English football’s most enduring images.
1970, in Mexico, would be Charlton’s final World Cup tournament. England went into the finals as defending champions with arguably a better side than the one they’d had in 1966. Charlton featured in all four of England’s matches but failed to find the back of the net. Helping England progress through the group stage, they faced West Germany. The Three Lion’s raced to a two nil lead and looked to be coasting until Beckenbauer managed to pull one back. It was believed that manager Ramsey made a panicked substitution and pulled Charlton off thus freeing up Beckenbauer to set the tempo for the Germans. Two more goals ended England’s reign as World Champions and ended Charlton’s World Cup career. Charlton said later that the substition hadn’t made the impact everyone claimed as the German’s had already begun to turn the game.
England Caps: 106
England Goals: 49
World Cups: 1958, 1962, 1966 & 1970
World Cup wins: 1
Runner Up: 0
World Cup Appearances: 14
World Cup Goals: 4
Paulo Rossi was born in Prato, Italy in 1956. He played in two World Cup finals and is Italy’s joint top scorer in the World Cup along with Roberto Baggio and Christian Vieri. In both of his World Cups he featured in all of Italy’s matches.
Argentina ’78 was Rossi’s first finals appearance. In the group stage, Rossi scored twice in the three matches as Italy made a perfect start and won all of their opening matches. In the second group stage, Rossi scored once more, the winner in a 1-0 victory over Austria, which helped Italy through to the 3rd/4th place match. It was his third goal of the finals and his last as he failed to score as Brazil beat Italy 2-1 to finish 3rd.
Spain in 1982, was the tournament for redemption for Rossi. In 1980, Rossi had been suspended for three years for his part in an alledged “match fixing” scandal. Rossi continued to plead his innocence and his suspension was reduced by a year. Once the ban was complete, Rossi was immediately called up to the Italian squad for the ’82 finals. Rossi, like Italy began the finals in abysmal fashion, due to a lack of match fitness having had so few matches. Italy scraped through to the second group stage by virtue of having scored more goals than Cameroon. Italian manager Enzo Bearzot was under immense pressure from journalist’s and fans alike to drop Rossi being drawn in a group with reigning champions Argentina and favourites Brazil. A 2-1 win for the Italians bought the coach some respite, but he remained under pressure for his faith in Rossi as he failed to score again. The next match against Brazil proved to be the turning point. On his last chance, Rossi netted an unlikely hat trick as Italy overcame the South Americans by three goals to two in one of the World Cup’s greatest matches. The semi final against Poland saw Rossi bag the only two goals of the match to put Italy through to what seemed an unlikey final only 3 matches before. With the momentum clearly on his and Italy’s side, Rossi open the scoring in the final to score his sixth goal in three matches. Italy went onto win the final 3-1 and Rossi won the Golden Shoe as the top scorer. He also finished the year as World and European Footballer of the Year and his return to the top was complete.
Italy Caps: 48
Italy Goals: 20
World Cups: 1978 & 1982
World Cup wins: 1
Runner Up: 0
World Cup Appearances: 14
World Cup Goals: 9
Born in Nordlingen, Germany in 1945, Gerd Muller was one of the most prolific goal scorers in the history of the game. Nicknamed “Der Bomber,” Muller scored an impressive 365 goals in 427 Bundersliga matches, 66 goals in 74 European matches and a remarkable 68 goals in 62 matches for his country. Muller played in two World Cup finals and accumulated an impressive 14 goals which stood as the record until Ronaldo scored his 15th in 2006.
In 1970, at his first World Cup in Mexico, Muller had an incredible tournament scoring 10 goals and finishing the tournament as top scorer. Muller began the tournament on fire as he scored an impressive 7 goals in the three group matches, including back to back hat tricks in the games against Bulgaria and Peru. Muller then scored the winner in the quarter final against England to eliminate the defending champions and then twice more in a 4-3 semi final defeat to Italy, in a game often described as the World Cup’s greatest. Muller failed to net in West Germany’s win in the 3rd place match and deprived him of joining the exclusive club of scoring in every match.
In 1974 on home soil, the lethal German wasn’t quite so prolific but still manager to score four goals in one of Germany’s ever side as the hosts went on to lift the trophy. This tournament, Muller began considerably slower than the previous finals scoring only once in the 1st group stage against Australia. In the second group stage, Muller added a further 2 goals, including the winner against a good Polish side which was enough to take West Germany through to a final meeting with the Total Football playing Dutch side. In his final international match, the ultimate goalscoring striker saved the best until last and scored the winning goal of the final which completed the comeback against the Dutch. It was also Muller’s 14th goal in World Cup’s which saw him replace Just Fontaine as the outright leading goalscorer in finals.
Germany Caps: 62
Germany Goals: 68
World Cups: 1970 & 1974
World Cup wins: 1
Runner Up: 0
World Cup Appearances: 13
World Cup Goals: 14
Johan Cruyff was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands in 1947. Considered the greatest Dutch footballer of all time, the Oranje legend always features in greatest player of all time lists. It is obvious to see how highly he was rated, as he has a move named after him: the “Cruyff Turn.” Despite only featuring in one World Cup, he and the Total Football side from 1974 are worth their place in World Cup history.
Cruyff’s only appearance came in the ’74 finals in West Germany. Even amongst such talented players such as Johan Neeskens, Jonny Rep and Rudi Krol, Cruyff was the star and the Talisman. Playing a style of football never seen on the international stage, the Netherlands dazzled everybody in their group in both rounds one and two. Cruyff didn’t get on the score sheet until the second round of group matches but then he shone. The Dutch maestro scored twice in a thumping 4-0 win against Argentina and then again in the deciding group game against Brazil. In the final, Cruyff took the kick off and the ball was passed thirteen times amongst the Dutch players before finding Cruyff. The Dutchman then set off on a dazzling run that took him into the area where he was fouled. Johan Neeskens took the penalty and scored. It underlined how good the Dutch could be. Just 2 minutes into the game, they were one goal in front and the first time the German’s touched the ball was to take the restart. Unfortunately for the Netherlands, they were facing another excellent team and the Germans clawed their way back into the match and won the final 2-1.
Cruyff could have gone to a second World Cup in 1978 and his presence there may have lifted the Dutch to winners instead of runner’s up again. It is widely believed he didn’t participate in protest over the military coup in Argentina, but Cruyff said the reason was his family had been involved in an attempted kidnapping the previous year and he wouldn’t been able to focus on the task at hand.
Netherlands Caps: 48
Netherlands Goals: 33
World Cup wins: 0
Runner Up: 1
World Cup Appearances: 7
World Cup Goals: 3