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World Cup Special: Five All-Time Greats of the FIFA World Cup

FIFA World Cup is now less than three weeks away from us. But as we move closer to the Football’s biggest event, we would like to take you for a ride in the past.

Today, we take a look back at the legends of the FIFA World Cup. Players who are loved and respected not only by their own fans but also by the opponents for their contribution in this historic competition.

The likes of Pele and Ronaldo have won the trophy more than once. But Zinedine Zidane helped France to get their hands on the first ever World Cup.

Will Messi join the list in 2018? Will Andres Iniesta become Spain’s all-time great by scoring another goal in the Final at Moscow? We do not know the answers to such questions right now. But we do know that the five players mentioned below are the legends of the World Cup and it will be difficult to replace them in the years to come.

Honourable Mention: Miroslav Klose (Germany)

It was very difficult to keep World Cup’s record top scorer out of this list. But unfortunately, 2014 World Cup winner just missed the cut on our list. The German has scored 16 goals in four World Cups. Klose broke Ronaldo Nazario’s record of 15 goals with his goal against Brazil in the semi-final.

5. Zinedine Zidane:

WAIT! Don’t take your thoughts flying towards the 2006 World Cup final. Zinedine Zidane has done much more than a head-butt in the World Cup history.

World Cup 1998, hosted by France was Zidane’s first of the three World Cups. After finishing 3rd in previous year’s Ballon d’Or and taking Juventus to the Champions League final, Zidane was in great form going into the World Cup.

But the midfielder failed to find the back of the net in group stages and the knock-out games. Until, the Final! Playing against former Champions Brazil, Zidane scored two goals in the first half of the final to win the first World Cup for France on the home soil.

Zidane announced his retirement in 2004, making the disappointing 2002 World Cup last of his career. But after France’s struggle to qualify for 2006 World Cup, Zidane came back from retirement and not only did he take his team to Germany, but he almost won the second World Cup as well – Single-handedly!

Zidane scored 3 goals in the tournament – in Round of 16, semi-final and the Final. Zidane’s red card in the final meant France was without their talisman for the penalty shoot-out. And despite France’s defeat, Zidane won the Golden Ball in 2006 World Cup and retired as the legend of the game!

4. Franz Beckenbauer:

Winning the world cup is a dream of every footballer. And winning the World Cup as a manager is not an easy job either. But West Germany’s Franz Beckenbauer won the World Cup as both player and a manager in 1974 and 1990 respectively.

There is a cliché saying that every success has a painful story. Beckenbauer’s case fits exactly in that saying. The German “defender” was the third top scorer with four goals in 1966 World Cup where West Germany lost to England in extra-time.

Franz was eager to change that in 1970. But he and Germany fell short once again, against Italy, in the semi-final. But they did it in some style. In the game known as “Game of the Century” Franz dislocated his shoulder but he still finished the game with his arm in a sling. Germans eventually lost 3-4 in extra time.

Franz Beckenbauer’s hard work finally paid off when he won the World Cup in 1974. And this time, he was also the captain of the side. In the final against the Netherlands, Franz and his defenders man-marked Johan Cruyff to win 2-1 against the creator of “total football”.

The two-time Ballon d’Or winner came back as a manager of West Germany and took his side to the World Cup final in 1986 where they lost to Argentina. But Franz was not the one to give up as he led Germans to another final in 1990, this time beating Argentina in the final.

Franz Beckenbauer will always be remembered in the history of the FIFA World Cup as the only player and the manager to both win and lose the final. Didn’t I tell you, this man fits perfectly in – Every success has a painful story!

3. Ronaldo:

With all due respect to Cristiano Ronaldo, there should be no doubts about which Ronaldo is mentioned in the list. The Brazilian Ronaldo – The creator of the craziest haircut but most importantly the owner of 15 World Cup goals and two World Cup trophies.

Ronaldo went to the USA for his first World Cup in 1994 as a 17-year old kid. While Brazil won the trophy, Ronaldo was hardly mentioned throughout the World Cup. But it all changed in 1998.

Going into the 1998 World Cup, Ronaldo was the winner of the previous Ballon d’Or and Brazil’s hopes of retaining the trophy were on his shoulders. Ronaldo bagged 4 goals and 3 assists in the tournament, taking Brazil to the final. But his health issues leading to the final allowed Zidane’s France to run away with the trophy.

In the next edition though, playing with Rivaldo and Ronaldinho, Ronaldo was on fire in South Korea and Japan. The striker scored whopping eight goals in the tournament including two in the final against Germany. Brazil won the 5th title and Ronaldo won his second.

Ronaldo scored 3 goals in the next edition of the World Cup as Brazil were knocked out by France in the quarter-finals. But with his 3 goals, Ronaldo took his tally of World Cup goals to 15, making him the top-scorer in the World Cups.

Miroslav Klose has surpassed Ronaldo with 16 goals since then, but the Brazilian’s contribution in the World Cup history will always be remembered by the world.

2. Diego Maradona:

Diego Maradona World Cup trophy

The Argentine fans have only one legend – Diego Maradona. Despite all he has done for the country, Leo Messi needs a World Cup to be like Diego Maradona in the eyes of the Argentine fans. And they do have a reason for that – 1986 World Cup!

Leading the South-American nation in 1986, Diego Maradona won the second World Cup for Argentina, almost single-handedly. He played every minute of the tournament as Argentina defeated the likes of Uruguay, England, Belgium, and Germany to become the champions.

Yes, his goal against England was a hand-ball, but his second goal after four minutes – “The goal of the century” was simply unbelievable. Maradona scored 5 goals and provided 5 assists in the tournament and was rightly awarded the Golden Ball.

He led Argentina to yet another final in 1990, but West Germany took their revenge by beating Maradona’s men 1-0. The Argentina No. 10 could not score a single goal in 1990.

Playing in the USA in 1994, Maradona’s career came to an end during the World Cup after he was sent home after failing the drug test. And despite a controversial end to his career, Maradona will always be the legend of the World Cup for letting everyone know that the World Cups can be won singlehandedly too.

1. Pele:

Pele

Was there ever a doubt about this? Were you expecting someone else on the top of this list? No, Good! Yes? Get some football history lessons.

Of all the goals he has scored in his career, Pele will always be known for winning not one, not two but THREE World Cups. You know, more than Spain and England combined!

Playing as a 17-year old in the 1958 World Cup, Pele broke a flurry of records. He became the youngest player to play in the World Cup, with his second-half hat-trick against France in the semi-final, he becomes the youngest player to score a hat-trick in the World Cup too. And the same kid scored a brace in the final against Sweden to win the first World Cup for Brazil. Who scores 6 World Cup goals at the age of 17? Pele!

Pele started 1962 World Cup with an assist and a goal. But he missed the rest of the World Cup due to injury. Brazil still managed to win the World Cup, making Pele two in two at the World Cup. In the 1966 World Cup, defenders were simply scared of the beast named Pele. And the European defenders tried to stop him in one way they knew – by constantly fouling him. Brazil was knocked out in the group stages as frustrated Pele decided to not take part in the World Cup ever again.

Fortunately for the fans, Pele returned to play his last World Cup in 1970 and won the third title for Brazil by scoring 4 goals in the tournament.

With 12 goals and 3 World Cup trophies, Pele is and always will be the legend of the game and the legend of the FIFA World Cup.

Author’s Take:

Can you create new World Cup legends, Russia? Leo Messi, Neymar Jr., Isco, Anyone up for it?


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