World Cup: Great players of the game

The World Cup has provided a stage for the greatest players in the game. Ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil we look at some of them.

Diego Maradona
Argentina's Diego Maradona

Diego Maradona (Argentina)

Never has a player been so dominant at a World Cup as Diego Maradona was at Mexico '86.

As breathtaking as he was controversial, Maradona scored or assisted 10 of Argentina's 14 goals on their way to winning the trophy, scoring two of the most memorable efforts of all time in their quarter-final win over England.

The first will be forever laced in controversy as his 'Hand of God' was not spotted by Tunisian referee Ali Bennaceur, but his second - slaloming through the England team before rounding Peter Shilton and slotting home - remains one of the most iconic strikes of all time.

In the final, West Germany's attempts to shackle Maradona looked to have paid off until he finally shook off the attentions of Lothar Matthaus with seven minutes to play and set up Jorge Burruchaga's winner.

In total, Maradona scored eight times in 21 World Cup appearances, as well as coaching his country to the quarter-finals at South Africa 2010.

Pele
Brazil's Pele

Pele (Brazil)

Alongside Maradona, Pele is regarded as one of the greatest players in the history of the game, with his haul of three World Cup winners' medals unrivalled.

As a precocious 17-year-old, Pele struck six times in four appearances at the 1958 tournament in Sweden, including a semi-final hat-trick against France and a double in the showpiece against the hosts.

Injuries limited his appearances at the 1962 edition - although he picked up a medal for Brazil's triumph - and he was curtailed by his fitness again in 1966.

However, it was Mexico '70 where Pele sealed his World Cup legacy, being named player of the tournament as part of a lethal forward line including Rivelino, Jairzinho and Tostao that tormented their opponents - culminating in a 4-1 final win over Italy, arguably the most dominant trophy-winning performance in history.

Ronaldo
Brazil's Ronaldo

Ronaldo (Brazil)

The stats speak for themselves: no player has scored more goals on the world's biggest stage than 'O Fenomeno'.

A non-playing squad member in Brazil's 1994 success, Ronaldo was one of the deadliest strikers in the world when France '98 arrived, although he made headlines for the wrong reasons when he was surprisingly omitted from the initial teamsheet for the final - reportedly after suffering a fit the night before the game brought on by the weight of expectation upon him - before eventually taking to the field and turning in a below-par performance as Brazil succumbed 3-0 to the hosts.

The former Inter, Real Madrid and Milan frontman had the last laugh though, plundering eight goals en route to the 2002 final including a brace in the showpiece win over Germany.
In 2006 he went on to score the goals required to overtake German legend Gerd Muller at the top of the all-time list, leaving him on 15 World Cup goals.

Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany)

German legend Franz Beckenbauer - nicknamed 'Der Kaiser' - is the only man to have captained and coached his nation to World Cup glory. However, near-misses could easily have dogged Beckenbauer's career.

After featuring in the 1966 final defeat to England, four years later at Mexico '70 he and West Germany were edged out after extra time in the semi-finals against Italy.

On home turf in 1974 though, he finally tasted glory - leading a defence that conceded just four goals in seven games to win the trophy.

Having won everything there was to win as a player, Beckenbauer repeated the trick as a coach at Italia '90 as his West Germany side ground out an ill-tempered 1-0 win over Argentina in Rome.

Zidane
France's Zinedine Zidane

Zinedine Zidane (France)

A two-time finalist, and one-time winner, Zinedine Zidane was the finest playmaker of his generation and will go down among the most stellar names in the game.

After two fine seasons with Juventus, Zidane came into France '98 expected to be pivotal to the host nation's efforts.

A red card in their second group game against Saudi Arabia limited his contribution, but he was in sensational form against Croatia in the semi-final and scored two bullet headers in the final itself in Paris.

Eight years later, after injury had ruined his 2002 tournament, he came out of retirement to propel France to Germany 2006 and then to an unlikely spot in the final, netting against Spain and Portugal on the way.

After scoring an impudent penalty in the seventh minute of the showpiece against Italy, Zidane's game - the last of his professional career - ended in infamy as he was sent off for headbutting Marco Materazzi and the Italians went on to win via a shootout.

Gerd Muller (West Germany)

While Franz Beckenbauer was regally patrolling West Germany's defence earning his 'Kaiser' moniker, Gerd Muller was at the other end of the pitch plundering goals in such a fashion that it earned him just as fitting a nickname - 'Der Bomber'.

Though not physically domineering, Muller's eye for goal and quick thinking often saw him beat defenders to the ball, while a good leap for a man of only 1.76metres would often catch out unsuspecting markers.

Muller scored 10 goals at Mexico '70 as West Germany exited in the semi-finals to Italy, before four years later, on home soil, his goals helped them to the trophy - including scoring the winner in a 2-1 victory over the Netherlands in the final.

Though the Bayern Munich striker's total tally of 14 final goals was eventually surpassed by Ronaldo, it is worth noting that the German reached his total in just 13 games, while the Brazilian took 19.

Bobby Moore (England)

Being carried on the shoulders of Ray Wilson and England's hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst holding the Jules Rimet trophy aloft - the triumphant image of Bobby Moore celebrating World Cup victory in 1966 neatly sums up one of the finest defenders of all time.

Moore first got a taste of the World Cup at Chile 1962, before taking the England captaincy from Johnny Haynes a year later.

He subsequently helped inspire his country to their sole World Cup win as part of a defence that kept four consecutive clean sheets - a run that would have stretched to five but for a late Eusebio penalty in the semi-final win over Portugal.

But Moore's best World Cup performance arguably came four years later in Mexico.

Despite a build-up that had seen him accused of theft by a Colombian jewellery store, his display in the group stage against Brazil was exemplary, summed up by a perfectly timed tackle to stop Jairzinho in full flow.

That tackle and Gordon Banks' memorable save from Pele could not prevent a 1-0 loss and England suffered elimination to West Germany in the next round.

Eusebio (Portugal)

One of the greatest players never to have lifted the World Cup, Portugal's 'Black Pearl' deserves his place among the legends of the game.

While England lifted the trophy in 1966, the Portuguese was the undoubted individual star of the tournament - scoring nine times to win the Golden Boot.

The then-Benfica striker arrived in England as the reigning European Football of the Year and proved his credentials, including scoring four goals in the quarter-final against a North Korea side that had opened up a 3-0 lead in just 25 minutes.

He scored again in the semi-final against England, but it was not enough to prevent a 2-1 defeat to the eventual winners.

The Portugal icon narrowly edges Just Fontaine in our list, with the Frenchman having scored 13 goals for France en route to third place at the 1958 edition.

Eusebio passed away aged 71 in January 2014, leaving a legacy that will never be forgotten.

Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)

Had the Netherlands managed to hold on to, or even build on, the 1-0 lead they gained in the second minute of the 1974 World Cup final, Johan Cruyff’s contribution on the world stage may have seen him equal or even surpass Diego Maradona's in 1986.

Cruyff was the driving force behind the Dutch era of 'Total Football', and was coach Rinus Michels' creative leader on the pitch.

The playmaker tortured defences throughout the finals - even earning himself a place in the coaching manuals for future generations with his 'Cruyff turn' in the group-stage 0-0 draw with Sweden.

He scored twice in a 4-0 second-round thrashing of Argentina and then netted against Brazil.

When he instigated an attack straight from kick-off that led to Johan Neeskens giving the Dutch the lead against West Germany the final, it seemed he was destined to lift the trophy, but Paul Breitner and Gerd Muller denied him.

Cruyff surprisingly retired from international football just a year before the 1978 World Cup and later revealed that a kidnap attempt during which he and his family were tied up and threatened with a rifle in Barcelona had played a part in his decision.

Ferenc Puskas (Hungary)

If Cruyff and his silky skills encapsulated the era of Dutch 'Total Football', then two decades earlier Ferenc Puskas was equally synonymous with a footballing ideology as the leader of Hungary's 'Magical Magyars'.

The Olympic champions heading into the 1954 tournament, Hungary were widely recognised as the best team on the planet thanks to an incredible unbeaten run of 31 matches - with Puskas their star.

Ably supported by Sandor Kocsis, 'The Galloping Major' - who earned the nickname in recognition of his army rank - led Hungary all the way to the final, where, despite struggling with an injury, he opened the scoring himself before Zoltan Czibor added a second.

But West Germany roared back with three goals to claim one of the World Cup's greatest shocks in what was dubbed the 'Miracle of Bern'.

It was a missed opportunity for Hungary, who subsequently saw their finest-ever side broken up due to revolution in the country two years later.

Puskas and Kocsis moved to Spain and played for Real Madrid and Barcelona respectively, and although Puskas returned to the World Cup stage eight years later, by that time Hungary's influence, and his own, had waned.

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