World Cup heroes.
These are the footballers who have made history in the world’s greatest sporting event.
The 30 players distinguished on this eminent list have all written themselves into the World Cup archives with performances and feats worthy of heroic recognition.
To clarify, ‘hero’ is preferred to the word ‘legend’ because legendary status cannot apply to a player whose career is still ongoing.
So, administration aside, who tops this marathon list of World Cup heroes?
30. Pak Doo-Ik – North Korea, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1966
In an extraordinary game at Ayresome Park, minnows North Korea defeated Italy 1-0, knocking the then two-time world champions out. Architect of that famous win was Pak Doo-Ik, a serving member of the North Korean military, whose goal after 42 minutes is still talked about as part of one of the greatest World Cup shocks in history.
29. Lucien Laurent – France, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1930
The late Frenchman is famous for having scored the first-ever World Cup goal in a 4-1 win against Mexico at Uruguay 1930. When France became world champions on home turf in 1998, Laurent was the only surviving member of France’s 1930 squad to witness them lift the World Cup.
28. Papa Bouba Diop – Senegal, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002
In Senegal’s World Cup debut against reigning champions France, few pundits offered them hope of scoring, let alone beating their decorated opponents. When Bouba Diop scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 1-0 win it was a moment that reduced Senegalese fans to tears. They eventually lost 1-0 to Turkey in the quarter-finals.
27. Roger Milla – Cameroon, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1982, 1990, 1994
Famous for his eccentric goal celebrations, Milla was a star of Italia ’90 when his four goals propelled Cameroon to the quarter-finals – a record for an African team. They eventually lost to England 3-2 after extra-time, but he returned at USA ’94 to become the oldest goalscorer in a World Cup.
26. Oliver Kahn – Germany, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002, 2006
Kahn became the first goalkeeper to win the golden ball as player of the tournament in 2002 and he is renowned for his disgust at a mistake during the final which allowed Ronaldo to score in a 2-0 defeat to Brazil. Kahn would not be able to exorcise those demons as Germany finished third on home soil in 2006.
25. Gary Lineker – England, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1986, 1990
Lineker shot to fame at Mexico ’86 after netting a hat-trick in a 3-0 win against Poland and went on to win the golden boot as top scorer with six goals. At Italia ’90 he added four goals to his World Cup tally but, after Lineker had equalised, England lost on penalties to West Germany in the semi-finals.
24. Gianluigi Buffon – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Germany 2006), World Cups: 2002, 2006, 2010
Buffon is one of the best goalkeepers ever to play at a World Cup. The peak of his career came when Italy won the World Cup in 2006 after a penalty shoot-out. Though Buffon didn’t save a spot-kick in the final, he kept five clean sheets throughout the tournament.
23. Miroslav Klose – Germany, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 2002, 2006, 2010
With five goals at the 2002 World Cup, five goals and the golden boot in 2006 and a further four goals at South Africa 2010, Klose is tied with compatriot Gerd Müller at second on the all-time World Cup goalscorers list with 14 goals. A strange quirk to his goals in 2002 was that they were all headed efforts.
22. Dino Zoff – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Spain 1982), World Cups: 1974, 1978, 1982
Zoff became the oldest player to win a World Cup at 40 when Italy beat West Germany 3-1 in the final. He also joined countryman Gianpiero Combi as the only players to have won the World Cup as goalkeeping captains.
21. Zico – Brazil, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1978, 1982, 1986
One of the greatest players never to have won a World Cup, Zico was part of the 1982 Brazilian side which was hailed as one of the best Brazilian squads ever to grace football’s biggest stage, scoring four goals before being knocked-out by eventual winners Italy.
20. Andres Iniesta – Spain, World Cups won: 1 (South Africa 2010), World Cups: 2006, 2010
Perhaps overshadowed by Xavi at Barcelona, Iniesta wrote a dramatic chapter in World Cup history by scoring the winning goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands. His shirt-wheeling celebration was one of the greatest images of that World Cup and the goal is the pinnacle of his career to date.
19. Fabio Grosso – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Germany 2006), World Cups: 2006
Italy owe much to the charismatic full-back. In his first and only World Cup he scored an instinctive goal with one minute of extra-time remaining in the semi-final against Germany before netting the winning spot-kick to end an enthralling penalty shoot-out in the final against France, giving Italy a fourth World Cup triumph.
18. Eusebio – Portugal, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1966
The late Eusebio won the golden boot at the 1966 World Cup in England with nine goals. That proved to be his only World Cup appearance but it was one littered with jewels. He scored a brace against Brazil, four goals against North Korea and one against England in a heartbreaking 2-1 loss which became known as the ‘game of tears’ in Portugal after Eusebio broke down post-match.
17. Jürgen Klinsmann – Germany, World Cups won: 1 (Italia 1990), World Cups: 1990, 1994, 1998
Scoring at three World Cups for a total of 11 goals, Klinsmann is one of the greatest World Cup strikers of all time. His West Germany side won the World Cup in 1990 and he would go on to manage his country to third place on home territory in 2006.
16. Paolo Rossi – Italy, World Cups won: 1 (Spain 1982), World Cups: 1978, 1982
Rossi’s World Cup career mirrors a rollercoaster ride. In 1978 he scored three goals before being implicated in the infamous 1980 Totonero betting scandal, receiving a two-year ban. He was selected for the 1982 World Cup but was exposed early on by a severe lack of match-fitness. However, Rossi recovered to score a hat-trick against Brazil, a semi-final brace against Poland and a goal in the final against West Germany. His performances earned him the golden ball and the golden boot with six goals.
15. Mario Kempes – Argentina, World Cups won: 1 (Argentina 1978), World Cups: 1978
Kempes only played in one World Cup – Argentina ’78 – but he was imperious throughout it. His tally of six goals helped Argentina to a home World Cup win, scoring twice in a 3-1 victory against the Netherlands in the final. His display won him the golden boot and the golden ball.
14. Just Fontaine – France, World Cups won: 0, World Cups: 1958
Fontaine holds the record for the most goals scored in a World Cup – a staggering 13 in six games – which puts him fourth on the all-time list. Despite only playing at one World Cup, the Frenchman is considered to be one of France’s greatest players having won the golden boot in 1958.
13. Romario – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (USA 1994), World Cups: 1990, 1994
Romario’s World Cup story is blighted by injury and high-profile exclusions. In 1990 he played one game against Scotland, but returned in style to claim a winner’s medal in 1994, scoring five goals. He suffered an injury just before the 1998 World Cup and was also left out of the 2002 squad despite a blistering season in his native Brazil playing for Fluminense.
12. Johan Cruyff – the Netherlands, World Cups won: 0, World Cups, 1974
A leading exponent of ‘total football’ Cruyff bamboozled defenders with his famous ‘Cruyff turn’. He played at just one World Cup, leading the Netherlands to the 1974 final where he won the penalty which gave his side a 1-0 lead over West Germany after two minutes. Though the Germans eventually won 2-1, Cruyff’s consolation prize was the golden ball.
11. Ferenc Puskas – Hungary, World Cups won: 0, World Cups, 1954
Puskas was part of the feared Hungarian side of the 1954 World Cup. Favourites for the tournament, they were beaten in the final by West Germany as their opponents executed a fine tactical plan to win 3-2, despite Puskas opening the scoring after six minutes. The diminutive striker received the golden ball and scored four goals in the tournament.
10. Sir Geoff Hurst – England, World Cups won: 1 (England 1966), World Cups, 1966, 1970
Hurst became the first and only man to score a hat-trick in a World Cup final as England won 4-2 against West Germany to win the World Cup on home turf. Hurst scored five World Cup goals in total but will forever be remembered as the man who won England’s only World Cup.
9. Rivaldo – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1998, 2002
The Brazilian winger was famous for his partnership with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho at the 2002 World Cup. He went on to score five times and netted eight goals in his World Cup career and is held as one of the greatest Brazilian players of all-time.
8. Gerd Müller – West Germany, World Cups won: 1 (West Germany 1974), World Cups: 1970, 1974
Müller played 11 World Cup games and scored 14 times. His immense record places him joint-second with Klose on the all-time World Cup goalscorers list. In the 1970 World Cup he notched two hat-tricks as West Germany finished third, but he would claim a winner’s medal in his home country by scoring the winning goal in a 2-1 win over Cruyff’s Netherlands in the final.
7. Franz Beckenbauer – West Germany, World Cups won: 1 (West Germany 1974), World Cups: 1966, 1970, 1974
‘Der Kaiser’ is an integral part of the German footballing fabric. He scored five World Cup goals from the sweeper position and also managed his country to victory at Italia ’90, becoming one of only two men to have won the World Cup as both a coach and player.
6. Cafu – Brazil, World Cups won: 2 (USA 1994, South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006
Cafu is one of a handful of players to have played in four World Cups. He has two winner’s medals and is considered to be one of Brazil’s greatest players. Despite never scoring at a World Cup, Cafu has played 20 World Cup matches, recording ten clean sheets in the process.
5. Ronaldo – Brazil, World Cups won: 1 (South Korea & Japan 2002), World Cups: 1998, 2002, 2006
Ronaldo has amassed 15 goals in World Cups and is the all-time leading goalscorer. His brace in the 2002 final against Germany helped secure Brazil’s fifth World Cup crown and he also finished with the golden boot after claiming eight goals. He broke Gerd Müller’s record with a simple finish against Ghana in the 2006 World Cup and is rated as one of the greatest of all-time.
4. Garrincha – Brazil, World Cups won: 2 (Sweden 1958, Chile 1962), World Cups: 1958, 1962, 1966
Ever worthy of a place on the all-time World Cup XI, Garrincha is one of the most decorated players in World Cup history. Having won the 1958 final 5-2 against Sweden, Garrincha played a starring role in the next Finals with Pele out injured. The man dubbed ‘little bird’ scored five goals in his World Cup career and won the golden boot and golden ball in 1962.
3. Zinedine Zidane – France, World Cups won: 1 (France 1998), World Cups: 1998, 2002, 2006
Zidane’s World Cup career is one of the greatest. He scored twice in a home World Cup final against Brazil, winning 3-0, and then scored in the 2006 final against Italy. However, that performance was marred by an ugly headbutt inflicted upon Marco Materazzi. Even after that ill-discipline, Zidane collected the golden ball as player of the tournament.
2. Diego Maradona – Argentina, World Cups won: 1 (Mexico 1986), World Cups: 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994
Maradona’s World Cup tale is even more controversial and successful than Zidane’s. His ‘hand of God’ goal against England led many to label him a cheat and, at the 1994 World Cup, he was disgraced and sent home after failing a drugs test for ephedrine. Despite these misgivings, Maradona is held by some as the greatest World Cup player of all-time. His jinking run against England at Mexico ’86 is one of the best World Cup goals ever and he captained his side to World Cup glory in the same tournament while also winning the golden ball.
1. Pele – Brazil, World Cups won: 3 (Sweden 1958, Chile 1962, Mexico 1970), World Cups: 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970
Easily the greatest World Cup player of them all, Pele’s three World Cup wins prompted the Brazilian public to deify him. He has scored in every World Cup he has played in, including a brace in the 1958 final and the opening goal against Italy in the 1970 final. His 12 career World Cup goals place him in exalted company on the all-time goalscorers list, but it is for his magic that he earns top spot on this list. There have been many majestic World Cup players, but none as majestic as Pele.
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