Some of the all-time greats left their mark on soccer’s greatest stage. Here are the 10 best player performances in World Cup history.
Pele (1958): The 1958 World Cup in Sweden was the first to receive international television coverage. It was the perfect stage from which the career of the most recognized athlete of the 20th century and the greatest soccer player of all time was launched: Edson Arantes do Nascimento, more famously known as Pele. Nobody captured the imagination of the Swedish fans like the Brazilian. With six goals to his credit, including a pair in the final, the 17-year-old who grew up in poverty announced his presence to the world.
Maradona (1986): No one player dominated a tournament the way Diego Maradona did in Mexico. The brilliant Argentinean artist delivered his country its second World Cup title, scoring five goals – most of them brilliant – setting up several others and dominating games with his wizardry, skill and vision. England’s Gary Lineker finished as the tournament’s top scorer, but Maradona was the hero and won the Golden Boot award as the MVP.
Just Fontaine (1958): Fontaine scored more World Cup goals than Pele even though the Brazilian played in three more tournaments. The Frenchman’s 13 goals in six games at the 1958 competition is a mark that will likely never be broken.
Gerd Muller (1970): Nicknamed “Der Bomber,” Muller was the tournament’s top scorer with 10 goals – he recorded a hat trick in two consecutive games in the opening round – as he guided West Germany to the semifinals in Mexico.
Paolo Rossi (1982): What can possibly be said that already hasn’t been stated about the man that led the Azzurri to their first World Cup in 44 years? Rossi was kept scoreless through the first four games in Spain, but he exploded out of his slumber with a hat trick against Brazil in the quarterfinals en route to scoring a tournament-leading six goals – including one in the final – and cementing his place as one of the greatest World Cup heroes of all time.
Eusebio (1966): Eusebio was the engine room of a talented and dangerous Portugal team that made its World Cup debut in England. Eusebio, dubbed “The Black Pearl,” used his dazzling combination of speed, skill and power to score a tournament-high nine goals and lead his country to the semifinals. Sadly, he never played in another World Cup.
Sandor Kocsis (1954): With Ferenc Puskas injured, the legendary Hungarian forward took centre stage in Switzerland and finished the competition as top scorer with 11 goals. Nicknamed “Golden Head” for his aerial ability, Kocsis became the first man to score two hat tricks in the same World Cup (three goals against South Korea, four against West Germany in the first round).
Garrincha (1962): Nicknamed the “Little Bird,” no player flew higher in Chile. When Pele was knocked out of the tournament with an injury, it was the Brazilian winger, renowned for his dribbling skills, who hoisted the team on his shoulders. Garrincha scored four goals – including two in the semifinals – to help Brazil repeat as World champions
Zinedine Zidane (1998): Yes, Davor Suker was the top scorer, and yes, Ronaldo was given the Golden Ball award as the tournament MVP in France. But without Zidane pulling the playmaking strings from midfield and dominating games with his dazzling skills – not to mention his two goals in the final against Brazil – France never would have won the World Cup.
Giuseppe Meazza (1934): He wasn’t even Italy’s top scorer – Angelo Schiavio scored four times – but there’s no doubting Meazza’s influence at the 1934 competition. The Inter Milan forward scored two goals, including the winner against Spain in the quarter-finals, and was the backbone of an Italian team that won its first World Cup, much to the delight of Mussolini and the hometown fans.