Every four years, the FIFA World Cup brings together the world’s most in-form teams and their greatest champions. Over the course of a month, they battle it out, hoping to take home the most coveted trophy football has to offer.
Since its inception in 1930, many superstars have impressed fans with their stunning performances. However, very few have left an ever-lasting impact, created a legacy strong enough to withstand the test of time.
Today, we will take a look at five giants of the game who have become synonymous with World Cup wizardry. Here are the five greatest players in the history of the World Cup:
#5 Zinedine Zidane — France
Arguably the greatest-ever French footballer to play the game, Zinedine Zidane was a work of art. The former Real Madrid midfielder rarely misplaced a pass, never surrendered possession, possessed unmatched vision, and had a knack for scoring mesmerizing goals.
Zidane announced himself as the world’s best player in 1998, scoring two excellent headers to fire France to a 3-0 win over Brazil in the final. Having guided France to their first World Cup title, Zidane won the Ballon d’Or award in 1998.
Eight years later, Zidane came out of retirement to help France in the World Cup. The legendary midfielder dropped one masterclass after another to take Les Bleus to the final. His performance against Brazil in the quarter-finals was especially mesmerizing. He simply toyed around with Selecao’s world-class squad and set up Thierry Henry for the only goal of the match
Zinedine Zidane vs Brazil, 2006. He was on another level
The end of his World Cup and football career was bitter, however, as he was sent off for a headbutt on Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the final. France lost the game 5-3 on penalties (1-1 after extra time).
Zidane played 12 games on the biggest stage, scoring five times and providing three assists.
#4 Garrincha — Brazil
The understated hero of Brazil’s golden generation, Garrincha helped Selecao to two consecutive FIFA World Cups in 1958 and 1962. In 1958, Pele stole the show with his sensational goals, but it was Garrincha who often unlocked the stubborn defenses. His ability to beat defenders was extraordinary and he was never shy to showcase it. Garrincha produced his best performance of the tournament in the final against Sweden, providing two assists to help his team to a 5-2 victory.
Four years later, Garrincha got his chance to shine as the team’s undisputed frontman. With Pele out injured, Garrincha ran the show, both as a playmaker and a goalscorer. He created chances at will over the course of the tournament and scored four excellent goals, with his strikes coming against England and Chile (two goals each).
O maior quinteto da história do futebol:
Garrincha, Didi, Pelé, Vavá e Zagallo.
Eu poderia dizer que juntos eles nunca perderam um jogo sequer. Mas vou além: juntos, eles não perderam UMA COPA sequer.
Bicampeões do mundo (consecutivos) invictos!
Brazil beat Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the final and Garrincha ended the tournament as both the leading goalscorer (Golden Boot) and best player (Golden Ball). No player had won the two accolades in a single campaign before the bandy-legged Brazilian.
#3 Lionel Messi — Argentina
On Sunday, 18 December 2022, Argentina ended their 36-year World Cup drought by securing a memorable win (4-2 on penalties; 3-3 after extra time) over heavyweights France.
Lionel Messi, 35, turned out to be the star of the show, scoring seven times and providing three assists in seven matches across the tournament. The 2022 Golden Ball winner, who netted a brace in the final against France, scored in all four knockout matches in Qatar, becoming the first player in history to do so.
HE’S DONE IT – Lionel Messi is the king of Instagram!
The Argentina captain has racked up 56 million likes and counting in under two days…
The Argentina skipper came agonizingly close to bringing the trophy home in 2014, but Germany’s Mario Gotze spoiled the party in the second half of extra time. Propelled by his late strike in the final, Die Mannschaft nicked a 1-0 win. Messi, who had scored four goals and claimed an assist in seven games, was awarded the Golden Ball in 2014 for his heroics.
Messi, the only player to win the FIFA Golden Ball twice, has scored 13 goals and claimed eight assists in a record 26 World Cup games. No player in history has more goal contributions in the tournament’s illustrious history.
#2 Diego Maradona — Argentina
In terms of stats, Lionel Messi is leagues ahead of his predecessor Diego Maradona. But when it comes to impact, the hero of the 1986 World Cup still has the edge. He inspired a generation of young footballers, teaching them to bounce right back up even after the most damning falls. Maradona endured a whopping 153 fouls in the tournament, with 53 of them coming in 1986 alone.
Maradona scored eight goals and provided eight assists in 21 World Cup games in his career, with the majority of them coming in the 1986 World Cup. Except for in the Round-of-16 clash against Uruguay (1-0 win), Maradona either scored or assisted in all six fixtures in Mexico City.
The most notable performance of the tournament came in a 2-1 win over England in the quarter-finals. He first scored a header with the help of his hand — the goal which has since been known as the “Hand of God.”
Maradona’s reaction to Messi coming on as a substitute in 2006 to make his World Cup debut is amazing.
Four minutes later (55th minute), Maradona doubled his tally in astounding fashion, scoring the “Goal of the Century.” He went on a 60-yard dash, evading four outfield players before dummying goalkeeper Peter Shilton and finding the back of the net.
Maradona bagged another brace in a 2-0 win over Belgium in the semi-finals before providing an assist as Argentina beat Germany 3-2 in the final. Maradona nearly took Argentina to their second consecutive World Cup in 1990 but Germany exacted their revenge in the final, beating La Albiceleste 1-0.
#1 Pele — Brazil
The King of Football, Pele is the greatest footballer in the tournament’s history. The only player in history to win three World Cups, Pele scored 12 goals and claimed eight assists in 14 appearances in his illustrious career.
Pele’s first World Cup goal came against Wales in the 1958 quarter-finals. Aged 17 years and 239 days, he became the youngest goalscorer in the history of the tournament — a record that remains unbroken to this day. Pele next scored a hat-trick in the semi-final against France (5-2 win) and then bagged a brace in the final against Sweden (5-2 win) to win his first world championship.
Pele did it first
Four years later, he was injured in the second group-stage fixture against Czechoslovakia, but Garrincha’s heroics helped Brazil and Pele to their second consecutive winners’ medal. Pele once again worked his magic in 1970, scoring four goals and providing eight assists in six matches. Buoyed by his goal and two assists, Brazil beat Italy 4-1 in the final.
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