The World Cup is unquestionably the most prestigious sporting event in the world, and over the course of its history, countless great players have performed on the world’s largest stage. From Bert Patenaude, the American who scored the first hat trick in World Cup history, to the best players the world has ever seen, like Pele and Maradona, so many luminaries in the world of football have shined in the tournament that trying to list the 100 greatest players seems impossible and almost foolish.
Regardless, that is unequivocally what I will attempt to achieve with the accompanying assortment of slides. Because I am 31 and evidently did not see many of these men play, I think everyone will agree that ranking that many players from that many different eras would essentially be meaningless at face value. Lato cannot be compared to Eusebio. At the very least, not in any meaningful way.
1. PELE, Brazil (1958, 62, 66, 70)
Edison “Edson” Arantes do Nascimento, more commonly referred to as Pele, was without a doubt the world’s greatest player. Pele was, with all due respect to Diego Maradona, the most beautiful player ever to play the beautiful game. Pele was a key member of Brazil’s four World Cup teams. During that time, he led the Selecao to three victories and arguably contributed more to the rise of football’s global standing than anyone else.
Pele, who made 92 appearances for Brazil and is now one of the best ambassadors for the sport on a global scale, scored a remarkable 77 goals. Pele and Brazil won the Jules Rimet trophy three times, in 1958, 1962, and 1970. After 1970, they kept it permanently because they had won it three times. This has never been done by another team.
Pele became the youngest player to ever participate in the World Cup when he scored his first goal against Wales in the 1958 quarterfinals. In 1970 final, against Italy, he scored his final goal.
2. DIEGO MARADONA, Argentina (1982, 86, 90, 94)
Maradona was Pele’s only real rival for the title of the best player of all time. He was on four Albiceleste World Cup teams and won the Rimet Trophy once. From 1977 to 1994, Maradona played for Argentina and scored 34 goals, including eight goals and eight assists in 21 World Cup games. Maradona’s notorious unpenalized handball against England in the quarterfinal, dubbed “the hand of God,” in which Argentina won 2-1, cemented his place in history and helped Argentina win the tournament in 1986.
Maradona led his team to victory over West Germany in the final, scoring both of the game’s goals.
To be fair, his other goal in the quarterfinal was to weave majestically through five England players and beat goalkeeper Peter Shilton the entire length of the field. In a FIFA online poll in 2002, the strike was named the “Goal of the Century.”
3. GARRINCHA, Brazil (1958, 62, 66)
After Pele was injured in the second World Cup game in 1962, the “Little Bird” took center stage and helped Brazil win a second Jules Rimet Trophy. Garrincha, a right winger who is both sleek and devastating, is still adored all over Brazil and the world. Garrincha scored 12 goals for Brazil in 50 matches played between 1955 and 1966. Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Garrincha is the player on this rundown whose history makes one need to push him to the top.
He was brought into the world in Pau Grande, Brazil, and was somewhat disabled and inadequately taught. The Little Bird’s flight was partially ended by his own hand due to struggles with alcoholism and other issues off the field. He was tortured by other peasants before becoming famous as a wonder maker on the wing for Brazil.
4. RONALDO, Brazil (1998, 02, 06)
Ronaldo was one of the most feared strikers in world football at the club and international levels long before the scourge of all-you-can-eat buffet owners stalked the restaurants of the world. He, who represented Brazil in four World Cup competitions and won two of them, certainly deserves his place among the tournament’s greatest players.
With 62 goals scored in 97 games for the Samba Boys, Ronaldo also holds the FIFA World Cup record for most matches with at least one goal scored with 11 and the FIFA World Cup record for most all-time goals scored in the competition with 15. He was with Brazil’s squad in the United States in 1994, but he did not play. In 2002, he helped Brazil win the Cup.
5. GERD MULLER, West Germany (1970, 74)
“Der Bomber” set a World Cup record of 14 goals at the tournament when he scored 10 goals for West Germany in the 1970 tournament and 4 goals for Germany in the 1974 tournament. This record stood for 32 years until Cristiano Ronaldo broke it at the 2006 tournament. Muller got multiple times in 62 appearances for West Germany from 1966 to 1974 and drove one of the best German sides ever.
6. ZINEDINE ZIDANE, France (1998, 02, 06)
It is difficult to argue that Zidane does not belong near the top of any list of the best World Cup performers ever, despite the fact that the unfortunate head-butt incident that occurred during the tournament in 2006 is the final memory for many people. Zidane represented Les Bleus in three World Cups and helped France win the 1998 tournament. Between 1998 and 2002, he was arguably Europe’s best player, scoring two goals in the championship game.
Zizou, as he is affectionately known by many French and Algerians, was not named best player at the 1998 World Cup, when Ronaldo won the Golden Boot. However, in 2006, Zizou won the trophy after leading France back into the final.
7. FERENC PUSKAS, Hungary, Spain (1954, 1962)
As time passes, the memory of the “Wizardry Magyars” develops increasingly more remote to the football cognizance of the typical fan. It’s a pity because the 1954 Hungarian squad was among the best ever assembled for the World Cup. Puskas scored four goals in the tournament, but Hungary did not win the trophy that year.
Sadly, Puskas would not play in a World Cup again until 1954. He made 85 appearances for Hungary and scored an incredible 84 goals. In the final minutes of the 3-2 loss to West Germany, he appeared to have scored the equalizer, but it was disallowed due to an offsides call.
8. JUST FONTAINE, France (1958)
The Moroccan-born Fontaine scored 30 goals in just 21 appearances for France, possibly the best average of any player ever. In just six games at the 1958 World Cup, he set a World Cup record with 13 goals and won the Golden Boot Award. Additionally, Fontaine holds the record for the most consecutive World Cup games with six goals.
9. JOHANN CRUYFF, Netherlands (1974)
Cruyff, who led the Oranje to second place and was named the tournament’s most outstanding player in 1974, is probably the greatest player to never win the World Cup. In his one and only appearance on the biggest stage in the world, he scored four goals. He was in charge of Dutch teams that played Total Football, as the legendary Rinus Michels did.
10. FRANZ BECKENBAUER, West Germany (1966, 1970, 1974)
“Der Kaiser” won the World Cup as a player in 1974 and as a director in 1990.He is widely regarded as one of the best defenders to ever play the game and represented West Germany in three tournaments.
Despite West Germany losing to England in the World Cup final in 1966, Beckenbauer scored four goals. As a defender, he tied for third in scoring.
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