International Fixtures

Ahead of Qatar 2022: Biggest Players to Have Played in the World Cup

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The FIFA World Cup has given birth to many national heroes since its inaugural edition in 1930. Over the years, we’ve seen players take the leap from local to international stars in the twinkle of an eye, and Qatar 2022 could be the year for some more talents to make a name for themselves.

That said, who are the greatest players to ever play at the FIFA World Cup? This article ranks the top 5 players based on achievements, leadership on and off the field, and individual displays.

Gerd Muller (West Germany)

World Cup appearances: 1970, 1974

Winner: 1974

Games played: 13

Goals scored: 14

Gerd Muller is one of the very few players to average more than one goal per game in his international career, scoring an impressive 68 goals in 62 appearances for West Germany.

Muller’s 14-goal tally at the World Cup is one of the highest in the tournament. His first 10 goals earned him the Golden Boot in his FIFA World Cup debut in 1970.

De Bomber added four more goals to his tally in 1974. Amazingly, his final World Cup goal was also the winning goal that handed West Germany their first-ever World Cup trophy.

Zinedine Zidane (France)

World Cup appearances: 1998, 2002, 2006

Winner: 1998

Games played: 12

Goals scored: 5

Zidane kickstarted his World Cup career in 1998 and was Les Blues’ hero that year. His World Cup-winning double against Brazil in the finals couldn’t have come at a much better time in a period when France was facing a national crisis.

Eight years later, he led the French team into another World Cup final against Italy. Unfortunately, they lost to Italy on penalties, and Zidane took a chunk of the blame for arguably costing his team another World Cup trophy.

The French Captain claimed the Golden Ball as the best player in that tournament, despite earning a red card for a headbutt on Marco Materazzi.

Ronaldo (Brazil)

World Cup appearances: 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006

Winner: 2002

Games played: 19

Goals scored: 15

The Brazilian is arguably the most lethal offensive force to grace the World Cup, and we may never see a more deadly offensive player like Ronaldo at the World Cup. Many have tried, but only a few have come close.

Ronaldo won the Golden Boot at the 1998 World Cup, although Brazil’s loss at the hands of France in the final meant he had to wait another four years. Fast forward to 2002, and Ronaldo’s eight goals were enough to seal the deal for Brazil’s fifth title.

Ronaldo was already on the decline in 2006 but managed to bag three goals to overtake Gerd Muller for most goals at the World Cup, a record he held until Miroslav Klosse broke it in 2014.

Brazil has yet to win a World Cup since 2002 but are the Qatar 2022 pre-tournament favorites according to FIFA World Cup odds on FanDuel.

Diego Maradona (Argentina)

World Cup appearances: 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994

Winner: 1986

Games played: 21

Goals scored: 8

Four minutes was all it took for Diego Maradona to seal his status as one of soccer’s most controversial and talented icons in history. “Half angel, half devil,” as French media outlet L’Equipe calls him, he produced arguably the most memorable display at a World Cup tournament during the quarter-final match against England in 1986.

His first goal, dubbed ‘the Hand of God, in which he cunningly punched the ball over England’s Peter Shilton, was quickly followed by what is widely regarded as the greatest World Cup goal of all time. In the blink of an eye, Maradona swerved through multiple England defenders to put the game beyond reach and send Argentina to the semifinals. He finished the tournament with five goals and five assists to hand Argentina a third World Cup title.

In the years following, Maradona suffered an ankle injury as Argentina lost to West Germany in the 1990 final, and his World Cup career ended disgracefully in 1994 after failing a drug test. Nevertheless, the late Argentine will forever be remembered as one of the World Cup’s brightest stars.

Pele (Brazil)

World Cup appearances: 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970

Winner: 1958, 1962, 1970

Games played: 14

Goals scored 12

Pele arrived at the World Cup stage as the youngest player to ever feature in the tournament at 17 years old. He nursed a knee injury and wasn’t even fully fit to play. But the youngster exploded into the scene and announced himself to the world.

He netted a hat trick in the semifinals against France and followed it up with a brace against host nation Sweden at the 1958 World Cup finals to win Brazil’s first World Cup title.

Pele claimed his second trophy four years later, albeit with very few contributions due to an injury picked up against Czechoslovakia in game two of the group stage. He holds the prestigious honor of winning back-to-back World Cups in his first two tournament appearances.

After suffering defeat in 1966, Pele led Brazil to arguably the most domineering run to a World Cup title in 1970. He scored four goals and became the only player ever to win three World Cup medals.

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