The World Cup is the perfect platform for superstars not just to make a name for themselves but to write themselves into the eternal footballing history of a nation. Here are 5 of the tournament greats. Over the last century, we have seen numerous players achieve greatness in football. Players wait four years to make their mark in the World Cup. 32 nations in one country dying for that single 18-carat gold trophy.
5. Miroslav Klose
Country – Germany, World Cups – 2002, 2006, 2010,2014 Winner – 2014. Klose is best known for his performances with the German national team. He was part of the squad that won the 2014 World Cup, having previously finished second (2002) and third (2006, 2010) in the competition. Klose is the all-time top scorer for Germany and holds the record for the most goals scored in FIFA World Cups. He Won the Golden Boot at the 2006 World Cup with Germany by scoring five times. He retired from the national team in August 2014, shortly after Germany’s victory at the 2014 World Cup.
4. Zinedine Zidane
Country – France, World Cups – 1998, 2002, 2006, Winner – 1998. In 1998, he scored twice against Brazil to seal what would be a unifying World Cup triumph for a divided France. Fast-forward eight years and he leads Les Bleus to another final before arguably costing them the game against Italy by head-butting his career into early retirement. Despite his red card, Zidane claimed the Golden Ball in that tournament. His attack on Marco Materazzi was quite possibly the most infamous World Cup final moment. He remains arguably the finest European player of all time. Both the 1998 and 2006 World Cup finals have come to expect the unexpected from this Dark Knight of football. Zinedine Zidane played the hero in the former and very much the villain in the latter.
3. Ronaldo Nazário
Country – Brazil, World Cups – 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006, Winner – 1994, 2002. The Brazilian may have lost his title as the World Cup’s all-time top scorer to Miroslav Klose eight years ago, but with raw pace and a staggering ability to finish from all angles, Ronaldo is the greatest striker in world cup history. Ronaldo won the Golden Ball in 1998, his tournament was, and continues to be, shrouded in controversy due to the mysterious illness suffered just before the final against France. He played in that match, but it was the aforementioned Zidane who stole the show. The stage was set for redemption in South Korea and Japan four years later as he scored eight goals to lead Brazil to their fifth World Cup title. He scored a brace in the World Cup final against Oliver Kahn to secure Brazil’s fifth triumph in the international tournament.
2. Diego Maradona
Country – Argentina, World Cups – 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, Winner – 1986.
In the space of four World Cup quarter-final minutes, Diego Maradona sealed his reputation as one of the most controversial and talented figures in football history. His self-proclaimed ‘Hand of God‘, in which he punched the ball over England goalkeeper Peter Shilton and into the net, was quickly followed by the World Cup’s greatest ever goal. French newspaper L’Equipe summed the man up perfectly by calling him a ‘half-devil, half angel‘. Maradona played every minute of every match in that 1986 tournament, scoring five goals and making five assists to mark the most domineering individual displays in any World Cup ever.
Country – Brazil, World Cups – 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970, Winner – 1958, 1962, 1970. When Pele arrived at the 1958 World Cup as an unknown 17-year-old, he wasn’t even fully fit. A hat-trick in the semi-final against France was followed by a brace in the final against hosts Sweden. It started a staggering international career with Brazil which eventually finished with 77 goals from 92 caps and three World Cup winners medals. He claimed his second World Cup in 1962, but an injury in the second group game against Czechoslovakia means he contributed little to the cause. But it was his contribution to that famous 1970 team that puts him above the rest. He scored four goals as they dominated a World Cup no other nation has done ever. He earned his third winners medal and remains the only player to do so.