Will Russia make good hosts for the 2018 World Cup?

The recent World Cup in Brazil managed to thrive despite being neck-deep in an ocean of controversy but, as attention turns to 2018, is Russia going to be submerged?

International opinion towards Russia has been increasingly negative ever since the Ukrainian crisis began, and there are more issues for the Russians to deal with as the spotlight hovers over Moscow.

Russia’s last ‘mega-event’, the Winter Olympics, staged in the southern resort of Sochi, was held to be a sporting success but fell short in terms of the quantity of money spent – it was the most expensive Olympics in history at $51bn, beating the previous mark set by Beijing ($44bn) in 2008.

As with all mega-events, Sochi attracted huge media coverage and, inevitably, there was some digging into its inner workings.

What that coverage eventually uncovered was enormously damaging for Russia.

Reports began to surface of costs being driven skyward by corruption, there was criticism of Russia’s newly-passed anti-homosexual law, an established culture of racism and even terrorist threats.

The World Cup is the biggest sporting event on the planet and will garner even more worldwide attention than that of the Winter Olympics.

Russia will be under microscopic analysis and the early suggestions are that 2018 will be an extremely unpopular World Cup.

Firstly, there is an inherent problem with racism in Russian football – particularly so in Saint Petersburg, where local club Zenit are supported by a large faction of fans named ‘Landscrona.’

Among Landscrona’s horrible manifesto were the declarations that “dark-skinned players are all but forced down Zenit’s throat” and that homosexual players would be “unworthy of our great city.”

To the club’s credit, they are determined to weed out supporters of Landscrona and have signed Hulk and Axel Witsel in the past three years – both of whom are black.

Last season, CSKA Moscow were forced to play behind closed doors after their fans racially abused Manchester City’s Ivory Coast midfielder Yaya Toure. Toure later claimed that black players may boycott Russia’s World Cup in protest.

Instances of racism are common in Russia and there will undoubtedly be more in 2018 – but will FIFA act swiftly to punish those responsible?

Above all this Russia’s annexation of Crimea, and the subsequent violence, has served to further weaken the perception of their country worldwide.

Things have become even worse for President Vladimir Putin as it transpired that MH17 – a passenger plane shot down in Ukraine, killing 298 people – was blown up by a Buk-launched missile supplied to pro-Russian rebels by Moscow.

Putin’s handling of the tragedy has drawn heavy international condemnation and has even led to questions about the viability of the inaugural Russian Grand Prix in October.

Even so, the event will seemingly go ahead after Bernie Ecclestone, F1 supremo, rubbished concerns over the race in an attempt to negate the negative publicity surrounding it.

Discrimination against lesbian, gay and transgender people in Russia is another major concern – with some petitions to strip Russia of hosting rights attracting thousands of signatures.

These controversies are all bound to dominate the build-up to the World Cup, but there have also been worries over the cost of building new arenas for 2018.

Out of the permitted 12 stadiums, a total of nine new stadiums will be built, while three more will be upgraded or rebuilt. Unlike Brazil, construction of these stadiums is progressing well.

New infrastructure across the country will also be built and, like most mega-events, talk of an enduring legacy was a key component of the Russian World Cup bidding project.

The new stadiums and infrastructure will come at a potentially crippling cost, however.

Economic forecasts for Russia are worrying, with the country dicing with recession and Putin’s political opposition calling the $20bn budget allocated to the World Cup “unsustainable.”

On the pitch, Russia’s national team is one of the more experienced – it is rare that young players break through.

However, a poor performance in Brazil, which saw Russia crash out in the group stage, has prompted a change in approach with young players set to be given more opportunities.

There are high hopes for Dzhamaldin Khodzhaniyazov, a swashbuckling young defender, while Denis Cheryshev, a winger on Real Madrid’s books, could also make a significant impact in 2018.

So, although it is unlikely that Russia will have its right to host the 2018 World Cup revoked, it can expect an enormous amount of scorn from the international community for its discriminatory habits.

The question is can they change, and will FIFA make them mend their ways? Unfortunately, the answers to those questions are shrouded in doubt.

Perhaps the only respectable reason Russia deserves to host the 2018 World Cup is because it won the most votes to do so, leading many to arrive at the melancholic conclusion that footballing democracy has been too kind.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

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The best and worst World Cups ever

After a magnificent World Cup in Brazil, there has been much talk both in newspapers and on social media as to whether it was the best World Cup ever.

There are several contenders for ‘best World Cup’, but what about the ‘worst World Cup’?

Answering both those categories at once, here are my picks for the best and worst World Cups in footballing history, starting with the best.

3. Switzerland 1954

If goal-drenched football is your thing, you could do no worse than delving into the archives for footage of Switzerland 1954. With over five goals scored per game, spectators were treated to some memorable scorelines including a 9-0 win for Ferenc Puskas’ Hungary against South Korea, an 8-3 Hungarian thrashing of West Germany and a seismic 7-5 win for Austria against hosts Switzerland in the quarter-final where nine goals were scored in the first half.

Best moment: Despite their earlier defeat by Hungary, the canny West Germans, knowing that scouting and video footage of club football were in their embryonic stages, had played an under-strength side in that game and later defeated the surprised Hungarians 3-2 in the final.

2. France 1998

Zidane’s double against Brazil. Beckham’s kick at Simeone. Carlos Valderrama’s haircut. Owen’s solo goal against Argentina – just some of the enduring memories of France ’98 that will continue to endure for some time to come. France ’98 was certainly a purist’s World Cup with an emphasis on attacking football. As a result, 171 goals were scored in a tournament eventually won by the home side as they triumphed 3-0 over a lacklustre Brazil.

Best moment: Dennis Bergkamp’s fear of flying had restricted his international appearances, but he braved the Channel Tunnel to take the stage for Holland in France. In the quarter-final against Argentina, with the score locked at 1-1 in the 89th minute, Bergkamp elegantly controlled a diagonal lofted pass before slamming home a volley to send Holland through to the semi-finals.

1. Brazil 2014

The Brazilian public were promised a marvellous World Cup and they were not disappointed. Despite taking place amidst noisy protests about the weight and wisdom of Brazilian government spending for football’s showpiece event, the tournament let its football do the talking as some hefty attacking play drew rich rewards for the billions of viewers around the world. Reigning champions Spain were thumped 5-1 by Holland, James Rodriguez announced himself as football’s next superstar and Germany swept all before them to record a fourth World Cup crown.

Best moment: Hopes were high for hosts Brazil going into their semi-final with Germany but, when Neymar fractured a vertebra and captain Thiago Silva earned a suspension, things quickly turned nightmarish as a ruthless German side dismembered them 7-1, compiling a 5-0 lead by half-time. Ouch.

Now we move on to the worst World Cups in history – brace yourselves!

3. USA 1994

The tone for USA ’94 was set in the opening ceremony when Oprah Winfrey fell off the stage in introducing Diana Ross before Ross famously missed a penalty in a pre-orchestrated routine. The football itself was not much better, with hot temperatures and a lack of attacking football combining to bore viewers rather than excite them. USA ’94 also made history by hosting the first goalless World Cup final – a dour 0-0 draw between eventual winners Brazil and Italy.

Worst moment: Diego Maradona was sent home in disgrace after testing positive for the banned weight-loss drug ephedrine. The fiasco ended his equally controversial and glittering international career, although he continued at club level for three more years.

2. Italy 1990

Italia ’90 is not fondly remembered by the football fraternity – unless you support Germany. The tournament was so bad that it caused the back-pass rule to be created while many experts consider the tournament to have been the crucible of defensive football. Only 115 goals were scored in the 52 matches played – a record low for World Cups – with one group even recording five draws from six games. A dull World Cup final was enlivened by Andreas Brehme, whose 85th-minute goal won the tournament for West Germany.

Worst moment:  Pedro Monzon is not a household name, but he went into the record books as the first man to be sent off in a World Cup final. The Argentine may rightfully protest his case though as a lunge on Jurgen Klinsmann missed the German, with replays appearing to show Klinsmann diving.

1. South Africa 2010

As the drone of vuvuzelas rang around every World Cup venue, the players may have been distracted, tactical messages from the bench drowned out and commentators unable to hear themselves speak. Whatever the reason was, South Africa 2010 is by far the worst World Cup in history. Teams were hindered by bobbly surfaces and an unpredictable ball, ironically named ‘Jabulani’ – Zulu for “bringing joy to everyone.” The tournament average of 2.27 goals per game is beaten only by the tally of 2.21 at Italia ’90. South Africa 2010 also hosted what many claim to be one of the worst World Cup games in history as England dismally drew 0-0 with Algeria in Cape Town.

Worst moment: Yet another recent World Cup final became an abysmal affair as Spain’s already lamentable encounter with Holland was spiked by Nigel de Jong, who took his position of central defensive midfielder too literally. De Jong’s ‘kung-fu kick’ on Xabi Alonso was only given a yellow card by referee Howard Webb – a decision almost as bad as the tackle. Spain went on to win 1-0 thanks to an Andres Iniesta goal in extra-time.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: The true cost of Brazil 2014

With just two matches to go in the 2014 World Cup there is one question on the world’s lips: ‘Has it been worth all the money?’

Brazil’s staging of the World Cup has been the most expensive in history – and even then over a third of the proposed improvements to transportation have been scrapped or abandoned.

At a conservative estimate of $14bn, Brazil 2014 is almost $8bn more expensive than the previous record, set by Germany in 2006.

Critics in Brazil have scoffed at the $14bn estimate and say it is likely to cost 300% more, with retired Brazilian footballer Romario, now an MP, saying the eventual cost could be $46bn – a figure he named “the biggest theft in history.”

These figures illustrate a growing disparity, as has been the case in staging recent sporting ‘mega-events’, between the estimate and the eventual cost.

Seven years ago, when Brazil won the right to host the 2014 World Cup, a picture of recovery from underdevelopment and a forecast of accelerated growth was painted by then president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

In reality though, this was never going to be the case within such a limited time span.

Spending on the World Cup has seen the order of priority first extend to stadiums, airports and then transport.

The 12 stadiums themselves have cost $3.6bn to either build or renovate, several of which will struggle to recoup that expenditure as they host lower division teams with small attendance figures.

Brazilian airports have been given a long-awaited refurbishment to accommodate the 600,000 people who flew in to watch the tournament and the three million flying internally between venues.

But overall infrastructure improvements have suffered most as Brazil struggled to get the stadiums and airports ready for the World Cup. Just 36 of the 93 major projects were completed on schedule, and the country now faces a massive task to be ready in time for hosting the 2016 Olympics.

Amidst all the focus on these costs, there is good news economically.

The Brazilian government has estimated that over 710,000 permanent and temporary jobs have been created with additional research suggesting that fan spending could total $13bn.

Yet Brazilian banks remain cautious.

Excellent interest rates of 11% continue to benefit savers, but the ballooned prices aimed at the World Cup’s thousands of tourists has contributed to an inflation rate of 6.52% which could hit Brazilians hard in the aftermath of the tournament.

In addition to the spending, there have been more damaging stories emanating from Brazil during the World Cup.

Mass protests, sparked in 2013 by a raise in bus fares, have been commonplace while unsightly favelas – some hold up to one million people – have been uprooted to provide a more pleasant background to the venues.

In Rio, where Germany will clash with Argentina in the final on Sunday, drug gangs control several shanty towns, holding residents to ransom and treating them in an authoritarian manner.

There is also the crime rate to consider, with Rio believed to have the 19th-highest crime rate across the world’s cities. The Brazilian government pledged $900m towards security measures during the World Cup and reports of violence have been scarce.

At stadiums, South American fans were largely to blame for breaches of security.

A total of 20 Argentinean supporters forced their way in to the Maracana stadium in Rio during their country’s match against Bosnia, while in Chile’s match with Spain, 100 ticketless Chilean supporters also forced their way in to the same stadium and damaged the media centre, with 85 fans being detained.

Tragically, in the construction of some stadiums, eight workers died in accidents. Another worker died three days before the World Cup when a monorail collapsed in Sao Paulo.

The most recent disaster occurred in Belo Horizonte, where an overpass collapsed killing two people and leaving 22 others injured.

So, while the economic projections are encouraging for the future, there are still many discontented Brazilian people.

Some Brazilians wanted the $14bn spent on the World Cup to be ploughed into the country’s education and healthcare systems – this was a key aspect of the many protests before and during the tournament.

There is still a huge amount of poverty in the country, with some favelas controlled by rampant drug cartels and riddled by violent crime and corruption.

The staging of the World Cup itself however, has been a big success with viewers voting the 2014 World Cup to be the most exciting ever.

The tournament also produced shock results such as Holland’s 5-1 thrashing of reigning champions Spain and the 7-1 destruction of host nation Brazil by Germany.

FIFA have also been successful, controversially, as their $2bn investment looks set to reap commercial revenues of $4bn with the governing body reinvesting $20m into legacy projects throughout Brazil.

Whichever way the spotlight shines money could have been spent on other areas, but that is the case with every major sporting event.

Despite the huge expenditure Brazil, already a rapidly developing economy, will eventually benefit from the money invested in their new airports, transport links and infrastructure – even though some stadiums might not recoup the money spent on them.

The true cost of Brazil 2014 might never be known, but in general the country is expected to widen the disparity between rich and poor – and that is perhaps the most telling cost of all.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: My 2014 World Cup XI

With the World Cup final in Rio de Janeiro fast approaching, it’s time to focus on the players that will make up the FIFA team of the tournament.

Of course, the public don’t get a say, but there is plenty to discuss with several world-class performances throughout the tournament.

Regular World Cup followers will see dozens of ‘World Cup XI’ selections over the coming days, but here is my team along with seven substitutes who have also caught my attention.

For those interested, I’ve opted for a standard 4-2-3-1 formation – you can see my team on sharemytactics.com.

GK. Keylor Navas (CRC)

Navas attracted plaudits from across the globe for a series of stunning displays as he almost single-handedly kept Costa Rica in the World Cup. His world-class saves against Greece in their last-16 penalty shoot-out were arguably his best but another impressive shot-stopping spree against the Netherlands in the quarter-final proved futile as the Central American team went out on penalties.

RB. Cristian Gamboa (CRC)

The contest for the right-back slot was close, but Gamboa wins out for his lung-bursting runs down the right flank. His tireless efforts gave the Costa Ricans a vital get-out to relieve heavy pressure against Holland and Greece and, refreshingly, he is a full-back who is equally at home in defence as he is going forward.

CB: Mats Hummels (c) (GER)

Hummels is Germany’s giant at the back and possibly their most reliable player of the tournament, making him the ideal choice to captain my World Cup XI. The centre-back makes defending look easy with his almost telepathic reading of the game and has also weighed in with two goals including the winner against France in the quarter-final.

CB: Stefan de Vrij (HOL)

Perhaps one of the most unsung players at the World Cup, de Vrij has quietly gone about his business as a quality centre-back. Like Hummels, de Vrij has an excellent reading of the game and seems to thrive on the pressure of tournament football with his performances getting better as the tournament endured. He kept Gonzalo Higuain at bay with ease for 120 minutes in the semi-final against Argentina and also scored in the 5-1 thrashing of world champions Spain.

LB: Marcos Rojo (ARG)

Rojo has shown during this World Cup why a move to a big club in Europe could lie in wait. His pace on the left has provided Argentina with a formidable left flank as Rojo has been deployed in tandem with Angel di Maria. The 24-year-old grabbed a goal against Nigeria in the group stage and looks set to enjoy a long international career.

CM: Toni Kroos (GER)

The German midfield is loaded with talent, but Kroos surpasses his compatriots with his deadly ability to take a controlling grasp of matches. He ducks in and out of attack and defence making him hard to mark and also has the nous to thread an incisive pass. His quick double against Brazil in Germany’s incredible 7-1 mauling of the hosts illustrates why Real Madrid are chasing his signature.

CM: Javier Mascherano (ARG)

He has his critics, but Mascherano has had an outstanding tournament. The gritty Argentine has been cast into his preferred central defensive midfield slot and his country has reaped the rewards. A stunning late block from Arjen Robben’s shot in the semi-final win over Holland was Mascherano at his typically hard-working best.

LM: James Rodriguez (COL)

With six goals Rodriguez is currently top goalscorer at this World Cup, the best of which was a stupendous volley against Uruguay in the last-16. Although Colombia crashed out to Brazil in the quarter-finals, Rodriguez had made his presence felt with a number of world-class attacking displays. Could he follow Ronaldo and Messi as the next footballing superstar?

AM: Lionel Messi (ARG)

The man responsible for dragging Argentina through to the final is unsurprisingly Lionel Messi. Part of an average Argentine side, Messi has provided his country with a winning touch having scored the winning goals in two games and having created Angel di Maria’s winner against Belgium in the quarter-finals. Despite his improved form at this World Cup, his critics will argue that until he wins football’s greatest prize he cannot be elevated above Pele as the best that ever lived.

RM: Thomas Mueller (GER)

Mueller has had another productive World Cup with five goals and is quickly threatening the all-time record tally. One of his finest strengths is his elusive nature. Always on the move, the German can drift to either wing to take possession or can be deployed as a ruthless striker – as his predatory hat-trick against Portugal showed.

ST: Neymar (BRA)

The darling of Brazil, Neymar’s tournament was cruelly cut short by a mischievous challenge by Colombia’s Juan Zuniga which fractured a vertebra. Had he not been taken out so early he could have finished as top goalscorer, but his four goals gave an unusually dull Brazilian side hope of a home World Cup win.

Subs:

GK: Manuel Neuer (GER)

Solid, but not spectacular, Neuer’s tally of three clean sheets owes much to the powerful German defence as it does to his flamboyant sweeper-like antics.

CB: Thiago Silva (BRA)

Thiago Silva’s class during this tournament was defined by his absence in the 7-1 semi-final annihilation by Germany. He was the glue in the Brazilian defence and, when missing through suspension, they were leaderless and duly crumbled.

CB: Ezequiel Garay (ARG)

Garay has had an outstanding tournament for Argentina at the back, and his new club Zenit St. Petersburg will feel vindicated at the £12m they paid Benfica for his services.

RM: Mathieu Valbuena (FRA)

Arguably France’s best player at the World Cup, Valbuena was a constant menace on the right-wing with his pace and trickery. His deliveries from set-plays were sublime and he also scored a deserved goal against Switzerland in the group stage.

LM: Arjen Robben (HOL)

Despite admitting to diving during Holland’s 2-1 win over Mexico in the last-16, Robben earns a place on the bench. He terrified Spain with a brace in a famous 5-1 win and was full of his jinking runs even in extra-time periods against Costa Rica and Argentina.

ST: Robin van Persie (HOL)

The Dutch captain is worth his place on the bench purely because of an astonishing diving header against Spain, and he went on to notch two more goals despite being starved of service as the tournament progressed.

ST: Miroslav Klose (GER)

His goal at the second attempt against Brazil was a record-breaker for Klose as he overtook Ronaldo as the all-time leading World Cup goalscorer with 16. He has the chance to line up in his second World Cup final but has yet to score in one.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: What makes a ‘good’ World Cup?

Throughout the current 2014 World Cup, TV presenters, pundits and commentators have been referring to the tournament as one of the best in history.

Those opinions provoke the obvious question “what makes a good World Cup”?

If a ‘good’ World Cup is judged solely on goals, France ’98 would come top of the pile with 171. Brazil 2014 is currently on target to smash that with 140 goals scored and a healthy 14 games remaining.

Goals, though important to the enjoyment of a football match, are not the lone gauges of whether a World Cup is ‘good’ or not.

Historically, World Cups with a large dose of controversy are often remembered more than those that pass without incident.

For instance, would the 2010 World Cup in South Africa be as memorable had it not been for a tetchy final marked by Nigel de Jong’s ‘kung-fu’ kick on Xabi Alonso and referee Howard Webb’s decision to show a yellow card instead of red?

Or will Luis Suarez’s bite at Brazil 2014 be the defining memory of the current tournament?

A ‘good’ World Cup could also be measured by the amount of magical and dramatic moments, such as Gordon Banks’ incredible save from Pele at Mexico ’70 or Roberto Baggio’s penalty shoot-out miss against Brazil in the 1994 final.

There are obviously hundreds of similar moments that won’t get a mention, but viewers will often point towards a perfect storm of goals, controversy, super saves and drama as being a good indicator of whether a World Cup has been ‘good’ or not.

But, despite all those components, the most telling aspect of a ‘good’ World Cup is the atmosphere.

If the fans are not enjoying themselves, if there is a lack of singing in the stands or if the host nation is eliminated in the group stage then history dictates that that World Cup would be deemed an anti-climax.

For instance Spain ’82 would be a candidate for a forgettable World Cup as it is rarely mentioned by experts as being anything other than ordinary.

Spain were knocked out in the second phase, while reigning champions Argentina and their arch-rivals Brazil also fell at the second hurdle.

The Spanish heat may have been a direct cause of a lack of action on the pitch, but also an uninspiring set of fixtures coupled with a shortage of excitement did not help the tournament in any way – only Paolo Rossi could realistically claim to have created any lasting World Cup memories.

Perhaps no atmosphere of a World Cup however, is as intense as the one in Brazil this summer.

For months before it started and in some parts while it is still running, Brazil had witnessed dozens of angry protests about the excessiveness of the spending of money allocated to accommodate the World Cup.

Yet the football-loving people of Brazil have combined to mask those protests and channel positivity through the veins of the country with their passion and love of the game.

Some 200,000 people crowded along Copacabana beach yesterday to watch Brazil defeat Chile on penalties to reach the quarter-finals.

The World Cup is the greatest prize for the majority of Brazilians in a continent which sees football as a religion.

The result is a festival-like environment at almost every World Cup match to have been played so far, and by any reckoning Brazil 2014 will be remembered as a ‘good’ World Cup – and potentially the best of them all – no matter what happens in Rio on 13 July.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: Top 30 World Cup heroes

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.

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89

2014 World Cup: Ten young stars to watch out for

Can you hear the sound of the world’s biggest carnival yet?

When it wheels into the newly-built Arena Corinthians on June 12 over one billion viewers will be gripped by World Cup fever.

Home nation Brazil will take on Croatia in Sao Paulo to begin the month-long festival of football.

Of course, there is much expectation and pressure on the Brazilian team to win on home turf and there have also been well-documented clashes and protests surrounding the judiciousness of the finances released by the Brazilian government to host this magical tournament. (There will be more on that in a later blog).

To help get your football juices going this blog will be the first of ten special World Cup blogs to supplement your enjoyment of the greatest sporting event on the planet.

Blog number one previews ten of the best young footballers to feature at the World Cup this summer.

To qualify, there are two criteria: A player must be aged 23 or under and must be making his World Cup debut.

So, let’s start the countdown. Who is set to be the brightest young talent of the World Cup?

10. Fabian Schär – Switzerland, age 22, centre-back (5 caps, 3 goals)

Perhaps a surprise inclusion at ten on this list, Schär is arguably one of the most exciting defenders in the world. His aerial ability from set-pieces is allied to an instinctive reading of the game and his impressive pace serves him well when faced with one-on-one duels. Recent performances for Basel in the Europa League suggest that Schär excels on the big stage and will be in contention for a starting place in Switzerland’s first game against Ecuador.

9. Mario Götze – Germany, 21, attacking midfielder (27 caps, 7 goals)

Undoubtedly one of the best German talents, of which there are many, but will he get a regular starting spot in Brazil? The competition for places in the German midfield could hinder Götze’s chances of making a big impact on the tournament but he has proven his goalscoring prowess at international level despite being in and out of the Bayern Munich side this season.

8. Son Heung-Min – South Korea, 21, attacking midfielder (23 caps, 6 goals)

After an impressive season with Bayer Leverkusen, Son will be carrying the affection of South Korea on his shoulders. Son usually plays just off the lead striker but such is his versatility and talent he can switch positions across a forward three and is also deployed on the wing. Son’s flexibility rids South Korea of a rigidity which had plagued their game in recent years but with their new hero they should be a threat to Belgium, Russia and Algeria in group H.

7. Adnan Januzaj – Belgium, 19, attacking midfielder (0 caps, 0 goals)

At just 19, Januzaj is part of a youthful and promising Belgium squad in Brazil. A long wrestling match between several countries is to blame for his lack of international experience but, after opting for Belgium, manager Marc Wilmots has wasted no time in including the Manchester United star in his plans. With the likes of Eden Hazard, Kevin Mirallas and Kevin de Bruyne ahead of him in the pecking order Januzaj could make a significant impact coming off the bench against tiring opponents with his jinking runs.

6. Ross Barkley – England, 20, attacking midfielder (3 caps, 0 goals)

Barkley’s place on this list is dependent upon Roy Hodgson giving him the playing time many onlookers are craving. The precocious young talent has drawn comparisons with Paul Gascoigne but his technical ability stretches far beyond that of Gazza’s. Even if Hodgson prefers to be conservative in Brazil he is set to make substantial contributions when coming off the bench, particularly with his energetic and creative game.

5. Paul Pogba – France, 21, central midfielder (8 caps, 1 goal)

An authoritative and commanding presence in midfield, Pogba is very much in the Yaya Toure mould of footballer. He can rampage forward and score goals as a stellar season at Juventus has proven. Doubts still remain about his mentality but bearing his age in mind that is a problem he will overcome with maturity and should that process happen this summer he could be France’s star player in Brazil.

4. Mario Balotelli – Italy, 23, striker (29 caps, 12 goals)

Commeth the spotlight, commeth the maverick. Balotelli relishes attention and a World Cup in Brazil presents him with an opportunity to display his skills in the biggest arena of them all. His superb performances at Euro 2012 saw a coming of age for the rebellious striker and he has built upon that with some assured displays at AC Milan. He will be the spearhead of Italy’s attack versus England but can he control his temper to replicate his Euro 2012 showing?

3. Thibaut Courtois – Belgium, 22, goalkeeper (15 caps, 8 clean sheets)

Some may be surprised that a goalkeeper makes third place on this countdown, but Courtois will be one of the stars of the tournament. His potential is staggering and his acclimatisation to Spanish football with Atletico Madrid at a young age has been exceptional. A series of assured displays coupled with some outstanding saves shows why Chelsea paid €9m for him when he was just 19.

2. Eden Hazard – Belgium, 23, winger (43 caps, 5 goals)

A world-class talent but inconsistent with it, Hazard has the chance to exorcise his critics with a memorable display in Brazil. His tally of five goals in 43 games for Belgium is underwhelming but after enjoying a spectacular season for Chelsea there are signs he could flower into an international star this summer as part of a dangerous Belgium team.

1. Neymar – Brazil, 22, forward (47 caps, 30 goals)

There has been no expectation as high as this on any player in history. A home World Cup in a land where football is a religion. It seems made for Neymar and all his astonishing skill, but can he deliver under such a burden? His goal-laced performances at the 2013 Confederations Cup would offer a resounding yes to that question, even after an unconvincing opening season at Barcelona. Despite that, the Brazilian team is built to utilise his incredible talent with some tipping him to earn the Golden Boot. Could this tournament belong to the darling of Brazil?

You can follow me on Twitter @NeilWalton89