Six players who have dominated World Cups – Punch Sports Extra

Argentina face France in the World Cup final on Sunday, with Lionel Messi and Kylian Mbappe inspiring their respective nations throughout the past month in Qatar.

So will the competition be remembered as the ‘Messi World Cup’, with the Argentine finally lifting the trophy that has eluded him, or will Mbappe guide France to successive triumphs, following on from four years ago in Russia?

Pele, Brazil – 1958

Pele was only 17 when Brazil went to the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, looking to win the tournament for the first time. Left out of his country’s opening two games, the forward then impressed in a 2-0 success over the Soviet Union and scored the only goal in a 1-0 win over Wales in the quarter-finals.

From then on, Pele was unstoppable. He grabbed a hat-trick in a 5-2 semi-final victory over France and two more goals in the 5-2 win over Sweden in the final – including a brilliant effort when he flicked the ball over a defender who had tried to clatter him with a knee-high challenge and then volleyed into the net.

That was to be the first of three World Cup titles for Pele, although he only featured in the opening two matches in 1962, before injury ruled him out. In 1970, though, he was at his very best, scoring four times – including Brazil’s first goal in the thrilling 4-1 final win over Italy.

Mario Kempes, Argentina – 1978

Argentina have won the World Cup twice and, on both occasions, one player has played a huge part in their triumph. In 1978, on home soil, it was Mario Kempes.

The Valencia striker had gone into the tournament on the back of being the top goalscorer in La Liga in two successive seasons and was the only player in Argentina’s squad not playing his football in the country.

Kempes failed to score in the first group phase, but in the second phase he shone with both goals in a 2-0 win over Poland, and the first and third in a 6-0 victory over Peru.

That took Argentina into the final and Kempes netted twice more, in a 3-1 win over the Netherlands in Buenos Aires, as he not only helped his country to their first success, but also ended up as the tournament’s top goalscorer and its best player.

Paolo Rossi, Italy – 1982

Going into the 1982 World Cup in Spain, Italy striker Paolo Rossi had only just returned to action after a two-year ban for his part in a match-fixing scandal in Serie A, with national manager Enzo Bearzot criticised in the Italian media for selecting him.

But after a poor start, the striker sparkled against Brazil by scoring a brilliant hat-trick in a match Italy had to win to reach the semi-finals. He followed that with both goals in the 2-0 semi-final victory that saw off Poland, and netted Italy’s first in the 3-1 final win over West Germany.

Rossi’s six goals saw him clinch the Golden Boot as the top goalscorer and the Golden Ball for player of the tournament.

Diego Maradona, Argentina – 1986

Captain Diego Maradona led by example in 1986 as he helped Argentina win their second World Cup in the Mexico showpiece. A first goal came against Italy in a 1-1 draw to help Argentina win the group.

In the quarter-finals, he scored twice to eliminate England 2-1. The first was the infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal – when Maradona punched the ball past Peter Shilton – but the second is regarded as one of the best World Cup strikes of all time, as he picked up the ball inside his own half, before producing an incredible, weaving run through the England defence and beating Shilton.

He followed that with two more stunning goals in the 2-0 semi-final win over Belgium, and was then instrumental in the dramatic 3-2 final win over West Germany.

With five goals and five assists to his name, Maradona was a runaway winner of the Golden Ball for being the competition’s best player.

Zinedine Zidane, France – 1998

Skilful midfielder Zinedine Zidane was the poster boy for France’s 1998 World Cup, which they hosted.

He made a great start with an assist for his country’s first goal of the tournament, scored by Christophe Dugarry in a 3-0 win over South Africa.

Zidane was then instrumental as they took the lead against Saudi Arabia, but later sent off in the 4-0 win and missed France’s third group game against Denmark, as well as the nervy 1-0 extra-time victory over Paraguay in the last 16.

But he returned in style, scoring in the penalty shootout to see off Italy in the quarter-finals and then helping his side to a 2-1 semi-final win over Croatia.

In the final, Zidane scored two headers in a 3-0 win over Brazil, and his performances earned him a place in the team of the tournament. Two years later, he was named the best player at Euro 2000, which France also won.

Zidane: Face of multi-cultural France and star of Les Bleus’ 1998 World Cup triumph
Ronaldo, Brazil – 2002
That 1998 final was expected to be the greatest moment for Brazil striker Ronaldo. However, he suffered a seizure before the match and was originally not named in the line-up – only to then start, but fail to make an impact in a 3-0 loss to France.

A serious knee injury in 1999 threatened to end his career, but what followed was one of football’s greatest comeback stories. In the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan, Ronaldo was sensational as he put his nightmare of four years earlier behind him, with eight goals in seven matches.

He got four goals in the three group matches – one in a 2-1 win over Turkey, another in a 4-0 thrashing of China and two in an easy 5-2 win over Costa Rica. Then came one in the 2-0 last-16 victory over Belgium, the only goal in the 1-0 semi-final success against Turkey and both in the 2-0 win over Germany in the final.

Ronaldo ended up as top goalscorer and no player has scored more in a World Cup since, although both Messi and Mbappe remain in contention to do that this year.


Originally Posted By Punch Sports Extra
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