‘Mr. Football', who was part of three triumphant Brazilian teams, is the undisputed No.1. Our presentation of the 25 greatest post-War World Cup footballers continues, in ascending order. The nine listed here can hardly surprise:
Our presentation of the 25 greatest post-War World Cup footballers continues, in ascending order. The nine listed here can hardly surprise:
9. Michel Platini: Unlike most playmakers, Platini was a prolific goal-scorer, with 41 goals in 72 international matches. Although he could never win the World Cup for France, many still consider him the country's greatest footballer. In 1982, France exited in a semi-final shoot-out after drawing 3-3 with West Germany, Platini scoring France's first goal to make it 1-1.
Early in the second half, Platini put substitute Patrick Battiston through with a beautifully weighted through ball. Goalkeeper Harald Schumacher knocked Battison unconscious in an attempt to reach the ball. The referee didn't award France the penalty, and Germany won the shoot-out after both teams scored twice in extra-time. Platini scored again in the 1986 quarter-final, which France drew 1-1 against Brazil. This time, Platini was responsible for the only missed kick in the shoot-out. A sad end to a glittering World Cup career.
8. Zinedine Zidane: Zinedine Zidane possessed the gift of lifting his game in big matches, as three goals in two World Cup finals and a glorious volley in the 2002 Champions League final would testify. The Frenchman started the 1998 World Cup badly with a sending-off in a group game against Saudi Arabia, but ended it magnificently, with two headed goals in the final against Brazil. After missing most of France's dispiriting 2002 campaign through injury, Zidane's playmaking skills took centre stage in 2006.
France's captain won the Golden Ball for his vintage displays that coaxed an ageing side to the final. He scored against Spain in the second round, and took the free kick that resulted in Thierry Henry's goal in the 1-0 quarter-final win over his favourite opponent, Brazil. A Zidane penalty saw France past Portugal, and another, early in the final, gave it a 1-0 lead against Italy. The Italians equalised soon after, and a tense game eventually got to the volatile Zidane, and a glittering career ended with a red card for head-butting Marco Materazzi.
7. Gerd Muller: Top-class strikers average a goal every other game. By this benchmark, the predatory Gerd Muller was from another planet. Boasting a wonderful ability to ghost unnoticed into goal scoring positions and a small turning radius that helped him create space, Muller took ‘being in the right place at the right time' to a different level.
Of the German's 68 goals in 62 international appearances, 14 came at the World Cup. In 1970, he took the Golden Boot with 10 goals, including hat-tricks against Bulgaria and Peru and two extra-time goals in West Germany's 4-3 defeat to Italy in an epic semifinal.
In 1974, Muller was a key player in Germany's title triumph, scoring four goals, including the eventual winner in the final, a masterpiece of goal poaching.
6. Ronaldo: With 15 goals in 19 games, Brazil striker Ronaldo sits atop the list of prolific goal scorers who have graced the World Cup. He was also the most complete striker of the lot, possessing elite levels of pace, strength, movement, dribbling, and passing to go with his finishing. In 1998, aged just 21, he scored four goals along Brazil's march to its second straight final. But on the eve of the title clash against host France, he suffered a convulsive fit. He played in the final, but his was one of several poor performances in a 3-0 humbling.
He made up for it four years later, winning the Golden Boot with eight goals, including both goals in Brazil's 2-0 win over Germany in the final. In 2006, he was derided by many as fat and unfit, but still found the net twice, to go past Gerd Muller's previous World Cup record, before France knocked his team out in the quarter-finals.
5. Johann Cruyff: The Holland team of 1974 is one of the greatest sides not to win the World Cup, alongside the 1954 Hungarians and the 1982 Brazilians. Its Total Football, full of intricate passing and bewildering movement, captured the hearts of everyone who watched, and at the core of it all was Johann Cruyff. He possessed dazzling skill, inventing among other things the ‘Cruyff Turn,' but his tricks and flicks didn't take away from his core attributes of passing, movement, and clinical finishing. The three-time winner of the Ballon d'Or scored three goals in the tournament, a brace against Argentina and a flying volley against Brazil.
4. Garrincha: Few players have been as free-spirited as the Brazilian winger Garrincha. Born with a left leg six inches shorter than his right leg, and a left foot that curved outwards, the ‘Little Bird' was nevertheless the most unfettered of dribblers. Twisting his hips one way, and flicking the ball the other, he beat countless defenders.
In the 1958 World Cup final, he was responsible for Brazil's comeback after Sweden took an early lead. Twice, he burst past his marker on the right wing and pulled back low crosses for Vava to score from. In 1962, with Pele injured, Garrincha took on the goal scoring responsibility as well, netting two against England in the quarterfinals and two against host Chile in the semi-finals, winning the Golden Boot as Brazil won a second straight World Cup.
3. Franz Beckenbauer: Franz Beckenbauer redefined the role of centre back. Possessing the anticipation and positioning every top-level defender needs, he brought to the position the vision and passing range that he had displayed early in his career as a midfielder. And so, while listed as a defender on the team sheet, he often stepped into midfield to orchestrate his team's attacks, thereby adding the word libero to the football lexicon. With Beckenbauer's calm organisation at its heart, West Germany won a full set of medals, losing the final in 1966 and coming third in 1970 before capturing the newly designed FIFA World Cup trophy in front of its adoring fans in 1974.
2. Diego Maradona: Few players can claim to have won a World Cup single-handedly. Diego Maradona, notwithstanding the presence of gifted team-mates like Jorge Valdano and Jorge Burruchaga, did just that for Argentina in 1986. This one-man team image was symbolised by the second of his two goals in the quarterfinal, where he took on and beat the entire England team with the ball seemingly tied to his bootlaces. Maradona's complex personality also had a dark side, evidenced by his first goal in that game, the infamous ‘Hand of God.' It also surfaced in 1994, when he left the World Cup in disgrace for failing a drug test. But that took little away from his genius.
1. Pele: If there is one man synonymous with football, it is Pele. His undisputed place at the top of any ‘greatest footballers' list has come about due to a combination of eye-catching impact with longevity and unrivalled success. At 17, he scored six goals, reserving his best for the crunch games — a hat-trick in the semi-final against France and two in the final against Sweden, the first a volley after he'd controlled the ball with his chest and chipped it over a defender. Injuries restricted him to only four appearances over the next two World Cups, but Pele was by no means finished. In 1970, Brazil played perhaps its best football ever, and Pele was at its heart, scoring four times, including the opening goal in the final, where he also assisted goals for Jairzinho and Carlos Alberto.
PHOTOS: AFP, AP