With just a few days left for the FIFA World Cup, Sportstar brings you a list of 10 stars who set the stage alight in the World Cup.
After a two-match ban following a red card in the 1998 World Cup and an unspectacular quarterfinal and semifinal, the final was all Zidane’s.
Zinedine Zidane’s tempestuous exit from football — sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi during extra time in the 2006 World Cup final — was far from uncharacteristic of the Frenchman. He was sent off 14 times in a career punctuated almost as often by acts of violence as by dainty pirouettes and eye-of-the-needle passes.
Eight years before, Zidane had been shown the red card in France’s second group game of the 1998 World Cup against Saudi Arabia. Back in his playmaking role after a two-match ban, he was solid if unspectacular as France progressed past Italy on penalties after a goalless quarterfinal and beat Croatia 2-1 in the semifinals.
Thus far, Zidane had been quiet, but the final against Brazil was all his. He headed in twice from corners in the first half while Emmanuel Petit added a stylish third in injury time, as France was crowned world champion for the first time.
The 2002 World Cup was a humbling experience for France as it exited after the first round with no wins or goals. But 2006 was an entirely different story.
France’s squad of ageing stars felled one fancied team after another in the knockout stage, Zidane in the middle of it all. In the second round, France vanquished Spain after going a goal down, with Zizou peeling off to the left, cutting in and beating a defender before coolly slotting home in injury time to finish the match in style.
He was man of the match in a 1-0 quarterfinal win against Brazil, a game in which the South Americans simply couldn’t get the ball off the 34-year-old.
Portugal was seen off in the semifinals as Zidane scored from the spot in another 1-0 win. Another penalty — a somewhat fortuitous one as the ball bounced down off the crossbar — put France a goal up in the final against Italy, making Zidane the fourth player to score in two World Cup finals.
But Italy equalised, and the score stayed 1-1 through extra time — time enough for Zidane to pick up another, albeit unwanted, record of becoming only the second player to be sent off twice in World Cup games, as Italy took the title 5-3 on penalties.
Appearances: 1998, 2002, 2006
Brazil went down tamely to France in the 1998 final after Ronaldo suffered a seizure the night before, but in 2002, led by the three R’s — including Rivaldo and Ronaldinho — it rode almost unchallenged to its fifth title.
At his peak, Ronaldo was the most frightening footballer in the world. The Brazilian striker ticked pretty much every box an attacking player possibly could — speed, strength, technique, finishing, passing, dribbling, off-the-ball movement, and whatever else you can think of.
Coming into the 1998 World Cup, ‘O Fenï¿½meno’ was definitely at his peak. He had won the FIFA World Player of the Year award for the last two years, and had scored 81 goals in his two previous seasons at Barcelona and Inter Milan. And he was only 21.
As expected, Ronaldo was irrepressible throughout much of the tournament in France, scoring five times, including twice in the pre-quarterfinal against Chile and a brilliant finish in the semifinal against Holland, where he demonstrated a superb first touch with the outside of his left foot to latch on to Rivaldo’s cross, holding off Phillip Cocu and then slipping the ball through ’keeper Edwin van der Sar’s legs.
The night before the final, however, Ronaldo suffered a seizure and was taken to hospital. Initially left out of the starting line-up, he convinced coach Mario Zagallo that he could play. Eventually, he and the rest of the Brazil side were well below par in a 3-0 defeat to host France.
Following the World Cup, Ronaldo suffered a series of knee injuries and had long spells on the sidelines.
By the time the 2002 tournament began, fans wondered if he’d ever be the same player again. But despite a drop in pace, Ronaldo revelled in Japan and South Korea, spearheading a loose trio of forwards comprising himself, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho.
He scored against every opponent bar England (who the other two R’s took care of) as Brazil rode almost unchallenged to its fifth World Cup title. In the final, Ronaldo scored twice against a subdued Germany, capitalising on a spill from the normally ultra-reliable Oliver Kahn to set Brazil on its way before ensuing victory with a precise drive into the bottom corner in the 79th minute.
Appearances: 1998, 2002, 2006
After injuries restricted Romario to just 66 minutes of action in the 1990 World Cup, he finished the 1994 tourney with the Golden Ball, in addition to the World Cup, of course.
It is said that in simply playing for the joy that football brings, Garrincha came first. Romario, many consider, came a close second. Nicknamed ‘Baixinho’ (Shorty), Romario was never a committed athlete and had a lackadaisical approach to training.
“The night was always my friend,” he once said. “When I go out I am happy, and when I am happy I score goals.” Romario was one of the most talked-about players in the lead-up to the 1990 World Cup in Italy, but injuries restricted him to just 66 minutes of action.
But at USA 1994, he burst onto the scene as Brazil won its fourth World Cup, its last triumph coming 24 years before. Partnering Bebeto, Romario scored five goals, one each in three first round matches, including a trademark toe-poke finish against Sweden. He bagged one against Holland in the quarterfinals and scored the match-winning header against Sweden in the last four.
Though he did not get on the score sheet in the final against Italy, Romario did convert Brazil’s second penalty in the shoot-out, which ended 3-2 in its favour. He later revealed that this was the first time he had taken a penalty for the national team. “I never practised penalties,” Romario told FourFourTwo magazine.
“It was a tense experience to take part in a penalty shoot-out of such importance. But, of course, it all worked out well for us. It was a big relief. After 24 years, we had finally won. My proudest moment was becoming a world champion.”
Romario’s performances at USA 1994 earned him both the FIFA World Player of the Year award and the Golden Ball, given to the best player at the World Cup.
Appearances: 1990, 1994
Lothar Matthaus was a natural as a defensive midfielder who played behind the forwards and wings, breaking up the opposing team’s manoeuvres as they started, fighting for loose balls, conquering the vital centre of the field.
The West German team that entered the 1990 World Cup was much changed from the one that reached the final four years previously, and Lothar Matthaus was emblematic of that. He was a natural as a defensive midfielder who played behind the forwards and wings.
Immovable and tenacious, Matthaus was the far outpost of the West German defence, breaking up the opposing team’s manoeuvres as they started, fighting for loose balls, conquering the vital centre of the field.
Matthaus was often assigned to mark a particularly dangerous adversary. In the 1986 World Cup, he shadowed both Maradona and France’s Michel Platini. A tireless runner with astonishing acceleration, Matthaus also left his post to support the West German attack. But the offence did not depend on him then. In 1990, it did.
Led by the Inter Milan trio of captain Matthaus, Jurgen Klinsmann and Andreas Brehme, West Germany began its campaign with a 4-1 win over a strong Yugoslavian side, a match that Matthaus said laid the foundation for his team’s winning campaign.
With two goals in that game, Matthaus became the first — and only till date — man in World Cup history to score a goal with each foot from outside the box in the same match. First, he opened the scoring in the 28th minute with a left-footed strike into the bottom corner from 24 yards out.
Then, in the 64th minute, he shot the ball home from 30 yards after side-stepping Davor Jozic, having carried the ball from inside his own half.
In the title clash, West Germany got revenge on Argentina for its defeat in 1986, but the match itself is considered the most cynical of all World Cup finals, with Andreas Brehme converting a penalty for the only goal of the game.
Matthaus went on to play two more World Cups, but Germany exited both at the quarterfinal stage. One of only two men to have played in five World Cups, and having appeared in a record 25 World Cup matches, the 1990 win marked the pinnacle of Matthaus’ career.
Appearances: 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998
Diego Armando Maradona
It was in the 1986 World Cup quarterfinals against England that Maradona scored his two most memorable goals — the ‘Hand of God’ goal and the ‘Goal of the Century’.
Boston, June 21, 1994. An era was coming to an end, although no one quite knew it then. Argentina had thumped Greece 4-0, Gabriel Batistuta scoring a hat-trick, and, in between, a 33-year-old Diego Maradona getting one with a glorious left-footed strike after a dizzying sequence of one-touch exchanges outside the penalty area.
Having played only a smattering of games for Sevilla and Newell’s Old Boys in the two years since serving a 15-month ban for cocaine use, the world’s greatest footballer looked fitter than ever and primed for another shot at World Cup glory. Four days later, he tested positive for ephedrine, a performance-enhancing and weight loss-inducing substance, and left the World Cup in disgrace.
Maradona’s career had completed the circle that began in 1982, when he had been sent off for kicking Brazil’s Joao Batista in the dying minutes of Argentina’s campaign-ending 1-3 second round defeat.
Four years later, the genius in him overpowered his petulant streak and transformed an otherwise workmanlike Argentina into a World Cup winner. He scored five goals in the tournament, including two in the quarterfinal at the Estadio Azteca — the ‘Hand of God’ goal and the ‘Goal of the Century’ — that will forever the define the two sides of his personality, streetwise genius and footballing god.
Argentina beat Germany 3-2 in a tense final, where Maradona, his explosive surges contained by a young Lothar Matthaus, had a hand in each of his team’s goals — winning a free kick that led to Jose Luis Brown’s headed opener, starting with a quick turn in midfield the move finished by Valdano, and playing the through-ball out of a tight clutch of German players to Burruchaga, who scored the winner.
In 1990, Maradona was equally influential in setting up another final with Germany. Most memorably, he assisted the only goal in a 1-0 second round win over Brazil, dribbling through the heart of the opposition before releasing to Claudio Caniggia. Argentina scraped past Italy in the semifinals on penalties, with Maradona converting the last of his team’s spot-kicks. In the final, though, Germany exacted revenge for ’86, winning a dull game 1-0.
Appearances: 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994
Cannavaro was named the FIFA World Player of the Year for his outstanding performance in the 2006 World Cup, and he remains the only defender to have won the award.
To this day, Fabio Cannavaro remains the only defender to have won the FIFA World Player of the Year award. That was in huge part because of the Italian’s outstanding performance in the Azzurri’s victorious World Cup campaign in Germany in 2006. The effort also won him the Ballon d’Or, the annual award then given to the best player in Europe (and now open to players from around the world), in 2006.
“It is unusual for a defender to be sitting alongside Ronaldinho and Zinedine Zidane, who do marvellous things all season, so I saw it as a victory just to be here,” he said at the award ceremony. In fact, his assessment wasn’t off the mark. Cannavaro was probably dwarfed by every central defender in the world then; he wasn’t well built at 5 feet 9 inches, yet was very rarely beaten in the air.
Such was his leaping ability that it seemed that he could hang eternally in the air. He was also known for his flying forward scissor-kicks while clearing the ball, and his reading of the game was as Italian as it could get.
For four weeks in Germany, what one saw was arguably the greatest series of performances by a defender in a World Cup. In the absence of the legendary Alessandro Nesta, Cannavaro was the only permanent member of an ever-changing defence. In seven games (690 minutes on the field), he led a virtually impenetrable backline that conceded just twice, his performance even earning him the nickname ‘Il Muro di Berlino’ (The Berlin Wall).
That two of his best performances came in a dramatic semifinal against host Germany, which Italy won 2-0 in extra time, and the penalty shoot-out win over France in the final was testament to his personality. Incidentally, the final was his 100th cap for Italy.
Appearances: 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010
Pele contributed six goals, all in the knock-out stage of the 1958 World Cup — the only goal against Wales, three swept past France and two cracking efforts in the final.
It takes genius to become top dog at 17 in a team containing Didi, Vava and Garrincha, and then, 12 years later, stay top dog amid names like Gerson, Jairzinho and Tostao. The argument between Pele’s ability to rise above great contemporaries and Diego Maradona’s relative one-man act in less-gifted company will never be resolved.
It’s almost terrifying to think that none of Pele’s glittering World Cup deeds may have come to occur had Vicente Feola, Brazil’s coach in 1958, heeded the advice of Joao Carvalhaes, the psychologist who travelled with the team to Sweden.
“Pele is obviously infantile,” Carvalhaes wrote in his assessment. “He lacks the necessary fighting spirit. He is too young to feel the aggression and respond with the proper force to make a good forward.”
After the 17-year-old Pele sat out Brazil’s first two games with an injured knee, Feola unleashed him against the USSR, disregarding Carvalhaes’s words.
“You may be right,” Feola said to Carvalhaes. “The thing is, you don’t know anything about football. If Pele’s knee is ready, he plays.” And how he played. Pele contributed six goals, all in the knockout stage — the only goal against Wales, three swept past France and two cracking efforts in the final: controlling the ball on his chest, lobbing it over a defender and smashing in the first on the volley before looping a header into the top corner.
Injury restricted Pele to just a game and a half each in the 1962 and 1966 World Cups, with the violent hacking of group opponent Portugal in 1966 leading to his exit from the tournament on a stretcher, vowing never to play in a World Cup again.
Thankfully, he relented in time for Mexico 1970, and lit up television screens worldwide, resplendent in yellow in the first World Cup telecast in colour. Brazil came to the tournament with possibly its greatest ever line-up and romped unbeaten to its third title.
Along the way, Pele found the net four times, and memorably laid on the final pass in a bewitching move that ended with Carlos Alberto’s sweeping finish for the final goal of the tournament. Even more memorably, Pele put his name to three of the greatest misses of all time: the lob from his own half against Czechoslovakia, the header that elicited the ‘save of the century’ from England goalkeeper Gordon Banks and the dummy-cum-run-around that hoodwinked Uruguay goalkeeper Ladislao Mazurkiewicz in the semifinals, only for the great man’s shot to roll past the wrong side of the post.
Appearances: 1958, 62, 66, 70
On paper, Holland’s centre-forward Johan Cruyff was not restricted in any way on the pitch, his roaming complemented by the movement of the players around him, nearly all of them his team-mates at Ajax.
Total Football’s blinding success, exemplified by the all-conquering Ajax team that won three European Cups in succession from 1971 to 1973, tends somehow to get overshadowed by its one heartbreaking defeat — Holland’s at the final of the 1974 World Cup.
The overbearing effect of the World Cup defeat is understandable, given the reach and undeniable romance of the competition, especially in the less globalised world of the early 1970s. The dominant images of Total Football we carry in our heads, therefore, are those of floppy-haired players in orange, and not the white and red of Ajax. At the centre of it all is Johan Cruyff.
On paper the team’s centre-forward, Cruyff was not restricted in any way on the pitch, his roaming complemented by the movement of the players around him, nearly all of them his team-mates at Ajax with whom he had an intuitive understanding.
The precision of his passing and his awareness of space were best summed up by Times sports writer David Miller, who called him ‘Pythagoras in boots’.
At the 1974 World Cup, Cruyff scored three goals, all in the second round, played in a two-group round-robin format.
Against Argentina, Cruyff set up a 4-0 win, scoring twice and finding the head of Johnny Rep with a pinpoint far-post cross from the left wing. In the must-win virtual semifinal against Brazil, Cruyff was magnificent in the face of cynical Brazilian fouling in a 2-0 win, slipping a low cross from the right that Johann Neeskens slid home in the 50th minute and settling the issue 15 minutes later with an acrobatic volley from left-back Ruud Krol’s first-time cross.
The first minute of the final showcased Total Football, and Cruyff’s place in it, in its entirety. After receiving the 15th languid pass of the game near the halfway line, Cruyff, at that point the deepest lying of Holland’s players, changed the tempo abruptly, setting off on a dribble that took out three defenders before West Germany knew what was happening. Panic set in, and Uli Hoeness slid in to bring him down just as he entered the penalty area. Neeskens converted from the spot, and Holland was on its way.
How such a dominant beginning gave way to a disappointing 2-1 defeat has been the subject of a million debates. If there’s any consensus, it’s that the Dutch became complacent and underestimated the skill and resilience of the Germans.
A typical Gerd Muller goal secured West Germany’s second world championship in 1974.
Gerd Muller was the World Championship’s all-time top goalscorer till Brazil’s Ronaldo overhauled his tally in 2006. In his two World Championships (1970 and 1974), he scored fourteen goals at an astounding average of more than one goal per match.
He did full justice to his nickname of “bomber of the nation” by hitting the target 68 times in his 62 games for his national team. Germany’s top scorer was of course also crowned with success for his club team. In his 427 Bundesliga games for Bayern Munich, Muller totted up a total of 365 goals in his inimitable fashion. He was equally incomparable in Cup games and in the European Cup, where his plethora of goals contributed largely to Munich’s huge success.
“Muller and/or Seeler?” was the big question splashed across the headlines before the World Cup in Mexico in 1970.
National coach Helmut Schon solved the problem imaginatively by placing Seeler in midfield and Muller as spearhead of the attack. The two of them in tandem were quite formidable. Muller scored seven goals in the first round and his brilliant volley bringing the score to 3-2 in extra time in the quarterfinal against England was revenge for Germany’s defeat in the final four years previously.
This was followed by the unforgettable and exciting semifinal between West Germany and Italy, which also went into extra time after a 1-1 draw at the end of 90 minutes. In the ensuing 30 minutes, Muller scored twice, but Italy won 4-3. Italy was in the final: Muller had to make do with the role of top marksman.
Germany did pull it off four years later, however. Catching the ball on the curve and skimming it hard past the legs of Dutch goalkeeper Jongbloed into the far corner of the net, Muller brought the score up to 2-1 in the final of the World Cup in Munich. A typical Muller goal made West Germany the world champion for the second time since 1954.
Gerd Muller knew that he was judged on the strength of his goals. His youth coach had thought he was slow and inept. But, ironically, it was precisely his very often unspectacular shots that helped bring him worldwide fame. He required astonishingly little space and time for his split-second finishes – a quick flick sufficed. His seemingly inherent intuition and instinctive positioning were incomparable.
What is more, although he was inevitably marked very closely by the opposing defenders, he remained a fair player throughout his entire career. Muller was the Bundesliga’s top scorer seven times, as well as two-time winner of the Golden Shoe as Europe’s best scorer (1970 and 1972).
Appearances: 1970, 74
The elusive Nandor Hidegkuti may have made the Magyars tick, and Sandor Kocsis may have been a more prolific goalscorer, but Ferenc Puskas enjoyed a longer reign in the eye of the West.
Between June 1950 and February 1956, Hungary lost only one match out of 50. Unfortunately for the Aranycsapat (Golden Team), that defeat was in the final of the 1954 World Cup. Despite being denied the Jules Rimet Trophy, the names of Gusztav Sebes’ Magical Magyars are today far more resonant than those of the victorious Germans, for this Hungary side revolutionised the way the game was played.
Hungary’s most resonant performance was undoubtedly its 6-3 win over England at Wembley in 1953, a game that blew apart the self-perpetuated myth of English football’s pre eminence.
The most vivid moment in this pivotal day in football history was, of course, the first of Ferenc Puskas’ two goals, a trademark left-footed thump following a casual drag-back with the sole of his foot, which left his marker Billy Wright slide-tackling thin air. “Like a fire engine going to the wrong fire,” was how sports writer Geoffrey Green, covering the game for The Times, described Wright’s desperate lunge.
Puskas was undoubtedly Hungary’s biggest star. The elusive Nandor Hidegkuti may have made the Magyars tick, and Sandor Kocsis may have been a more prolific goalscorer, but the Galloping Major, a combination of power and dazzling skill in a stocky, borderline-overweight frame, enjoyed a longer reign in the eye of the West.
Following the Soviet invasion of Hungary in 1956, Puskas moved to Spain and won three European Cups at Real Madrid, where he forged a devastating partnership with Alfredo Di Stefano.
In the 1954 World Cup, Hungary scored a remarkable 27 goals in five matches, with Kocsis netting 11 and Puskas and Hidegkuti four each.
An injured Puskas missed the quarterfinals and semisfinals, but returned for the final against West Germany, and left an indelible, if tragic mark on the ‘Miracle of Berne’. Puskas scored the game’s first goal, and following Germany’s stunning comeback from 0-2 to 3-2, slid home what he and the rest of the Hungary team believed was an equaliser three minutes from the end, only for the linesman to rule the goal offside.
Appearances: 1954 (Hungary), 1962 (Spain)