For every footballer, the World Cup title is the pinnacle. It is the ultimate goal for anyone who represents his country. The footballing world has witnessed a multitude of players vying for the cup every 4 years. Many footballers attained legendary status, but some of them were unable to lay their hands on the holy grail of football. Following is the list of some of the greatest players for whom the world cup medal remained elusive.
One of the foremost strikers of his generation, Puskas is probably the greatest footballer to have never won a World Cup or even a Ballon d’Or. He was a part of a resurgent Hungarian team that went on a 31 match unbeaten streak before losing to West Germany in the finals of the 1954 World Cup. The underdogs had triumphed over the Magyars 3-2. Then there was the Hungarian Revolution which effectively ended Puskas’s hopes of representing Hungary. He immigrated to Spain and carved out a stellar career at Real Madrid. Surprisingly, he got one last shot at the World Cup; but, this time with the Spanish team (having acquired Spanish citizenship). He played 4 times in the 1962 World Cup but was unable to find the net.
Cristiano Ronaldo has become a household name over the past decade. He has broken many records and has won numerous awards. He has played in 3 World Cups so far and frankly time is running out for him. Though he is very much in sublime form, age is slowly catching up with him. It is only a matter of time before he ceases to be a force in world football. He may have just one or maximum two shots at the World Cup left. But he remarkably once admitted that Portugal possesses an ‘average’ side and winning the World Cup is rarely on the cards. With the exception of Nani, Pepe, and Coentrao they lack the flair and approach that is required to beat South American and other European giants. The farthest Portugal has progressed with Ronaldo is to the semi-finals, in 2006 World Cup.
In comparison with his so called rival Cristiano Ronaldo, Messi has had a much better team at his disposal. He was within touching distance of the World Cup in 2014, but had to deal with a heart breaking defeat at the hands of Germans. He still has an opportunity to play one, or probably two, more World Cup/s while he is at his best. However, If Argentina is unable to build a team around him, the chances of him lifting the trophy will be quite bleak. The thought that he had come agonizingly close to adding the most prestigious trophy to his resume will always haunt him. Pundits have frequently defended and encouraged him throughout his career. It remains to be seen as to what the future holds for the footballing superstar.
Beckham’s stint with the England football team was slightly less appealing than his career at Manchester United and Real Madrid. Initially he was branded a villain by the fans as they considered him the reason for England’s exit from the 1998 World Cup (receiving a controversial red card for kicking Argentinian defender Diego Simeone). But his conversion to a hero came in the next edition where he scored a bending free kick in the dying moments of a must win World Cup qualifier. Eventually, they were knocked out by a far superior Brazil team in the Quarter Finals. The 2006 World Cup witnessed a similar story in which England was again defeated in the Quarter Final, but this time by Portugal. Beckham was substituted in the match shortly after half time. That was the end of Beckham’s World Cup dream as before the 2010 edition he suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon which ruled him out.
Zico was the most prolific striker of the 1970s and 1980s. He was a part of a fantastic squad which boasted the likes of Falcao, Socrates, Cerezo and Junior. In spite of all the talent the team possessed, they never won the World Cup. In 1982, the Brazilians were defeated by a resilient Italy before even reaching the semi-finals. In his last World Cup outing which was in 1986, Zico missed a penalty in the Quarter Final against France and subsequently, Brazil lost.
Maldini matured into a world class Left Back much before the age of 25. He played with an equally world class team which possessed the best defenders football had at that time. Yet they succumbed to Argentina in the World Cup of 1990 on penalties. This was after Maldini’s defence went 518 minutes without conceding a single goal. He took over as captain of the Italian team and led them to the finals of the 1994 World Cup. But he was again at the receiving end of another penalty shootout. This time against Brazil. Maldini and the Italian team failed to replicate their earlier form in the 1998 and 2002 campaigns.
He is considered by many to be one of the best players of his generation. He was a legend at Arsenal. Bergkamp was a part of a fairly decent Netherlands team and was at his sparkling best in the run up to their qualification for the 1994 World Cup, scoring five goals. He played in every game for Netherlands till they were knocked out in the Quarters by Brazil. They were knocked out by the same opponent in the next edition, but this time on penalties. His fear of flying was another limiting factor during his playing days as he couldn’t feature in away games. It was for the same reason that he retired in 2000 and decided not to play in the 2002 World Cup, which was in South Korea.
Alfredo di Stefano
Five-time European Cup winner, Di Stefano could have prospered on the international stage. But a series of unfortunate events and finally an injury dashed all hopes of getting the coveted trophy. He has played for 3 nations (officially 2) – Argentina, Colombia, and Spain. Argentina refused to play in the first World Cup he was eligible to play, which was in 1950. They did the same for the next edition. But after getting Spanish citizenship in 1956, he began to play for the Spanish team. But, they failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup. Eventually, he helped them qualify for the 1961 World Cup, however a muscle injury prevented him from playing. He retired shortly afterwards at the age of 36.
Another player who had come agonizingly close to winning the World Cup was Johan Cryuff. Netherlands never lost a game in which Cryuff scored. In the 1974 World Cup, Netherlands breezed into the final after making the Argentinians, East Germans, and Brazilians look like rookies. But tight marking of Johan Cryuff and a dominant midfield led by Franz Beckenbauer ensured that the West Germans won the final. After ensuring that Netherlands qualified for the next World Cup in 1978, he retired. Again, Netherlands finished as finalists and they clearly missed their star player.
1966 was a great year for Portuguese football as they qualified for their first World Cup. The credit for this was down to a rampaging Eusebio da Silva Ferreira. In the run up to the semi-final, Eusebio scored 9 goals in the tournament and steamrollered Brazil and North Korea among others. But his dream of winning the World Cup for Portugal was torn to pieces by eventual winners England in the semi-final. He famously trod off the pitch in tears. Eusebio’s Portugal could never set sights on the World Cup again as they failed to qualify for the 1970 and 1974 World Cup.
This midfield genius has won 3 Ballon d’Ors and represented France at the 1978, 1982, and 1986 World Cup. Platini was part of an average team going into the 1982 World Cup and none believed that they would advance past the group stage. Surprisingly, they reached the semi-final where they were pitted against a strong West German team. The latter won 5-4 on penalties. The last World Cup Platini played saw France exit in the exact same way to the same opponents and at the same stage of the tournament.
One of the standout winger/attacking midfielder of Manchester United, Best was unable to replicate the same form for the national team. In his 37 caps for Northern Ireland, he scored just 9 times. After leaving United at the age of 27, Best's performance over the next 10 years. He had to deal with problems of alcoholism and an extravagant lifestyle. During his prime, Northern Ireland could never qualify for the World Cup. When they finally did qualify, it was too late for George Best as he was already 36.