The finest players in the world sometimes don’t quite manage to produce their best on the biggest stage of all. Others seem fired up by the global attention, playing in ways they never could for their club. Here are 5 of the tournament greats. Over the last century, we have seen numerous players achieve greatness in football. Fans thronged stadiums on weekends to catch their heroes in action but nothing compared to the emotions when we saw them swap their club jerseys for that of the national team.
Players wait four years to make their mark in the World Cup. Some fail to do so, some don’t even qualify. The World Cup is a tournament followed by billions – even if they don’t follow club football in their daily lives. 32 nations in one country dying for that single 18-carat gold trophy.
5. Bobby Moore
Country – England, World Cups – 1962, 1966, 1970, Winner – 1966. England’s greatest ever captain, he lifted the Jules Rimet trophy at Wembley Stadium, but Moore was equally impressive in the tournaments before and after 1966. Moore retired in 1973 after England failed to qualify for the 1974 tournament, ending his World Cup career with 14 appearances and one trophy.
Country – Spain, World Cups – 2002, 2006, 2010, 2014, Winner – 2010. Xavi was named in Spain’s squad for the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, with Spain eventually winning their first World Cup. He provided the most accurate passes, 599 with a passing success rate of 91%, and he crossed the ball inside the 18-yard box more than any other player in the tournament. He is widely considered one of the greatest midfielders of all time, Xavi was renowned for his passing, vision, ball retention, and positioning.
3. Gerd Muller
Country – West Germany, World Cups – 1970, 1974, Winner – 1974. Der Bomber is one of the few players to finish his international career with an average of more than a goal a game, hitting an incredible 68 goals for West Germany in just 62 caps, 14 of which came at the World Cup in 13 games. He scored 10 of his World Cup goals in 1970, including the injury-time winner against England in the quarter-finals, to claim the Golden Boot. Muller scored the winner against Poland to send West Germany into the final as well as the goal that downed Johan Cruyff’s much-fancied Holland and earned the hosts the World Cup.
2. Lothar Matthaeus
Country – West Germany/Germany, World Cups: 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998, Winner: 1990. No outfield player has ever managed to play in five different World Cups except Lothas Matthaeus. The box-to-box midfielder, who managed 150 caps for both West and a reunified Germany. He captained West Germany to the World Cup in 1990, beating Maradona’s Argentina in a repeat of the final.
1. Franz Beckenbauer
Country – West Germany, World Cups – 1966, 1970, 1974, Winner – 1974. Franz Beckenbauer performed for West Germany at three World Cups. Nicknamed Der Kaiser, Beckenbauer started out as a midfielder before moving to defence. The position was a nightmare for man-markers of the day and his elegant link-up play with Gerd Muller inspired West Germany to success in the 1974 tournament. He became only the second man to win a World Cup as a player and a manager, alongside Mario Zagallo, when he led West Germany to the title from the dugout in 1990.