Lifting the FIFA World Cup would be the pinnacle of any footballer’s career, it’s what each and every one of them dream of when growing up.
Unfortunately, some of the finest players in the beautiful game’s history were denied the opportunity to do so. Some represented countries that were not likely to win the tournament, while others came within touching distance.
FootTheBall takes a look at those great players who missed out on football’s most prestigious trophy there is.
Lionel Messi – Argentina
Leo Messi almost won the 2014 World Cup but lost to Germany in the final by a narrow margin of 1-0. The little magician was a standout in the 2014 worldcup and won the Golden Ball.
However, that’s not what he was looking for as the player often says many times “My aim is to win Worldcup with Argentina”. The little magician won Copa America 2021 in Argentina and won his first International trophy. He is now aiming to win this year’s FIFA World Cup in Qatar.
He will be playing in Qatar, his last major tournament with Argentina.
Cristiano Ronaldo – Portugal
What is there to say about Cristiano Ronaldo that hasn’t been said before? While opinions differ about his ability in all areas, no one disputes his ability to finish. Even those who think he is overrated are uneasy when he takes possession against their club, fearing an inexorable drive or a skillful piece.
Having won almost everything in his illustrious career – including the 2016 Euros and 2019 Nations League with Portugal – there is one glaring omission from his trophy cabinet, and at 37 years of age, it’s difficult to see him rectifying that.
World Cup Team Roster – a thread
Luis Enrique revealed a bold 26 player squad for Spain🔥
No Thiago, David de Gea or Ramos in the squad❌#LetsQatar #RoadtoQatar #FIFAWorldCup2022 pic.twitter.com/1lzTdx5IBl
— FootTheBall FC (@FootTheBallFC) November 11, 2022
Johan Cruyff – Netherlands
John Cruyff, considered the greatest European player and founder of Total Football was never able to win a FIFA World Cup edition. Johan Cruyff led the Netherlands to two finals, but did not win.
In 1974, Johan Cruyff’s team was the hot favourite to win it but luck had other plans. His archrival Gerd Muller scored the winning goal and handed him one of the world cup finals losses.
Paolo Maldini – Italy
It’s one thing to play professional football for 24 years; it’s something completely different to do so as a left-back and maintain consistently-high performance levels throughout.
Nevertheless, all four of Maldini’s World Cup campaigns ended in disappointment, an outcome that was perhaps made more frustrating by Italy’s success in the first tournament after is international retirement.
He may also be content with his 2007 FIFA Club World Cup win with Milan and the seven Serie A titles and five European Cups he won during a long-lasting love affair with the Rossoneri.
Oliver Kahn – Germany
The only goalkeeper to be awarded the Golden Ball was also the villain in Germany’s 2002 loss to Brazil in Yokohama. It was Kahn who gifted Ronaldo the opener in the second-half, but his status amongst the game’s greats is not remotely harmed by that error.
If you have never seen the Bayern shot-stopper play in action, imagine Manuel Neuer’s incredible feats up to 2017 and the brilliance that was prime Iker Casillas.
Michel Platini – France
The current UEFA president was the heart of the 1984 European champions. He scored nine goals in five matches. Platini played in the World Cup in 1978, 1982 and 1986, but the best France could do in those tournaments was reach the semi-finals in ’82 and ’86. During a five-year stretch in the mid 1980’s, he won two Serie A titles and a European Cup with Juventus.
Eusebio – Portugal
Reaching the 1966 World Cup final and pretty much single-handedly carrying Portugal to the finals was the highlight of Eusebio’s career. Eusebio is also among the top 10 most prolific professional football goalscorers. Eusebio was the Pele for a very poor Portugal side.
Marco Van Basten – Netherlands
Marco van Basten is one of the most outstanding strikers of all time. He only played in one World Cup in 1990. The Netherlands bowed out early in the competition, in the second round.
After suffering a series of injuries, the striker was forced to quit at the age 30. He had a remarkable career, scoring 218 goals in 280 club matches as well as 24 goals in 58 matches with his national side.
Ferenc Puskas – Hungary
The World Cup was not won by the legendary striker Puskas, who also scored goals for fun. Puskas scored 514 goals in the 530 matches he played at club level, while he also scored 84 goals from 85 games for Hungary.
He won the Golden Ball in 1954 World Cup with Hungary. Hungary finished as the runners-up in 1954. After migrating to Spain a few years prior, the striker participated in the 1962 World Cup with Spain. La Roja were eliminated in the group stages.
Alfredo Di Stefano – Argentina
If the Real Madrid of the past decade has belonged to Ronaldo, then Los Blancos of the 1950s and 1960s is without doubt Di Stefano’s.
The Argentina-born Spaniard was the driving force behind five consecutive European Cup triumphs, yet he couldn’t bring the same success to any of the national teams he represented. Spain and his country of origin were still developing as footballing nation. His four-cap spell with Colombia wasn’t going to bring him Wold Cup immortality.