The World Cup is getting closer and closer, so it’s time for more WC-related lists, this time with the best players who played on soccer’s greatest stage but never got to lift the coveted trophy. Don’t worry about Ryan Giggs, Di Stefano and George Best, who’ll feature on our Best who didn’t get to play in the World Cup, coming soon.
Roberto Baggio – 1994 Penalty Miss Against Brazil
Club Career? 218 Goals in 488 games. Two Serie A titles, one with Juventus and one with AC Milan.
International? Three World Cups (1990-1998), 56 caps, 27 goals. He is the only Italian player to score in three different World Cups (2 in ’90, 5 in ’94, 2 in ’98).
Awards? European Footballer of the Year (Ballon d’Or) – 1993, FIFA World Player of the Year – 1993.
What most people will remember? His penalty miss against Brazil. It won’t matter that two other Italians (Baresi and Massaro) missed earlier . It won’t matter that he took Italy on his back, scoring 5 goals in the knockout stages. This is his most memorable moment in his amazing soccer career – The 1994 World Cup Final, Italy losing the shootout to Brazil.
The current head of UEFA and maybe the strongest man in European soccer today was part of the carre magique (The Magic Square), the French midfield, consisting of Platini, Alain Giresse, Luis Fernandez (Israel head coach) and Jean Tigana. Platini led the French side to win the 1984 Euro, voted as best player of the tournament and top goalscorer, with 9 goals. He played club footy for Saint Etienne and Nancy, but is mostly remembered for his time with Juventus, winning two Serie A titles and two European trophies – Cup Winners Cup in ’83 and the European Cup, today the Champions League, in 1985, the infamous Heysel final.
All in all, Platini scored 224 goals in 432 league matches and 41 goals in 72 caps for the French national team. He played in three World Cups, making the Semi Final in 1982 (losing to West Germany in a classic 3-3 draw after 120 minutes and a 5-4 defeat after penalties) and again in 1986, again against the West Germans, this time a decisive 2-0 defeat with Platini playing injured for most of the tournament.
Like Baggio, Platini was a fantastic penalty taker and free kick specialist, and like Baggio, he has a famous over the bar penalty miss. Luckily for Platini, France still won the game (1986 Quarter Final against Brazil).
Marco Van Basten
Despite retiring at the young age of 29, Marco Van Basten achieved quite a lot since joining Ajax’s senior side in 1982 after being brought up in the Dutch club’s youth ranks. He won three league titles and won UEFA Cup Winners Cup with Ajax before moving on to Italian giants AC Milan, forming a legendary dutch trio along with Rud Gullit and Frank Rijkaard, winning three league titles with the club and two back to back European Cup trophies, the last club to win the title two years in a row. He won European Footballer of the year award three times (1988, 1989, 1992), and amassed 277 goals in 370 matches at club level.
He led The Netherlands to it’s only title in 1988, scoring five goals in the 1988 Euro, including a hat-trick against England, the winner against West Germany in the Semi Final and his amazing volley goal against the Soviet Union in the final, scoring 24 goals in 58 caps for the Dutch national side. He only got to play in one World Cup, 1990 in Italy, were he was knocked out by the West Germans in a heated encounter. Van Basten was the best striker of his era and considered as one of the greatest strikers of all time, with a fantastic scoring rate and the mark of a man who didn’t make the most of his career that was cut short due to injuries.
The predecessor for Van Basten and the best example of what a total footballer should be, Johan Cruyff is probably the greatest player to never win a World Cup and actually never win a trophy with his national team, despite leading The Netherlands to the World Cup Final in 1974. More than that, on all the occasions people like to compare and decide on the greatest player ever, Cruyff get a little bit left out. I’ll tell you this – if he would have won one, he would be considered the greatest ever, right up there with Pele and Maradona. But Cruyff, despite portraying pure elegance, skill and intelligence while playing soccer, is left only with his club trophies (10 league titles and three European Champions’ Cups) and a stat sheet showing 368 goals in 662 matches and 33 goals in 48 caps for the national side. If only he would’ve played in the 1978 World Cup at Argentina were the Dutch were finalists again, things would be different.
Along with Alfredo Di Stefano (who we will discuss in another post), Puskas was part of the 50’s an 60’s Real Madrid domination of Europe and was the best player on the magical Hungary side that reached the 1954 World Cup finals and was considered to be the best in the world, nicknamed the Mighty Maygars or The Golden Team. Puskas scored 515 goals in 535 club matches and another 84 goals for the Hungarian national team which he quit after the Hungarian Revolution in 1956. Puskas stayed in Western Europe, signing with Real Madrid and later on played a bit for the Spanish national team. Puskas passed away in November 2006.
Another great national side that didn’t win the World Cup is the Brazil of 1982, which is considered to be one of the best Brazil ever had, losing in the second round to Italy in the famous 3-2 match with Paolo Rossi scoring a hat-trick of Italy who went on to win the World Cup. Arthur Antunes Coimbra, aka Zico, played for Flamengo from 1971-1983, winning the Copa Libertadores in 1981 and the Intercontinental Cup, establishing his status as a legend in Rio before moving to Italy to play with Udinese for three years, forming a strong rivalry with Juventus’ Platini and Napoli’s Maradona. He later returned to Flamengo and ended his career playing in Japan where he is also extremely popular, nicknamed the God of Soccer. He coached Japan in two World Cups (2002-2006). He’ll be remembered as one of the best free kick takers and skilled dribblers in the game, probably being the best player in the world along with Platini during the early 80’s.
A defender for a change, and one of the best examples for a professionalism, versatility in the back four and the ability to evolve from a pacey wing back to a central defender. He has 23 World Cup games behind him, second all-time behind Lothar Matthaus. He is the all-time leader in appearances for AC Milan with 902 matches in all competitions, beginning his career in the 1984-1985 season and retiring after the 2008-2009, at the age of 40. He won 7 Serie A titles with Milan and 5 European Cups (champions league). He played for Italy in four World Cups, reaching the final in 1994, retiring after the 2002 World Cup as Italy’s most capped player with 120, captaining the side 74 times.
Eusebio da Silva Ferreira ,the Black Panther or Black Pearl, played for Portugal, but he was born in Mozambique, then a Portougese colony (1942), moving to Lisbon during the late 50’s. He starred for Benfica for 15 years, scoring 727 goals in 715 matches. He won 11 league titles with As Aguias and more famously, two back to back European Cups (1961-1962) and finishing as runners up three more times. He won the 1965 European Footballer of the Year award and was the first Golden Boot winner in 1968 (top scorer in Europe) and 1973. He also led the Portougese league in scoring seven times between 1964-1973.
He is probably most known for his performance with Portugal in the 1966 World Cup, scoring a tournament best 9 goals, leading Portugal to the Semi Final, scoring a hat-trick in the Quarter-Finals in Portugal’s amazing comeback against North Korea from 3-0 down, winning 5-3 eventually. To date, Eusebio is considered to be the greatest player to play for Portugal and Benfica and was probably the first and maybe still biggest African soccer star.