The FIFA World Cup is one of the grandest stages in the life of a footballer and standing abreast his team with a hand on his puffed-up chest that holds the glorious crest of his nation, singing the national anthem serves half his life. The remaining half focuses on winning that hallowed trophy at the expense of anything, even life, in case you remember the name, Andres Escobar.
Many players have tried repeatedly and failed to kiss the pinnacle despite being absolute paragons of the sport, while there have been others who have managed to stay afloat till the last turn of the screw and claim the silverware with a captivating brand of display or even maybe with a loan of lady Luck’s hand.
However, no one remembers the source of the victory, but what everyone does remember is who eventually went on to lift the crown and that came at the cost of what.
In this story, we will look at eleven Gods, who exuded the very best in them and were successful in winning the hallowed FIFA World Cup after an exalting display of football and overwhelming emotions.
11. Gordon Banks
Named alongside the reckoning likes of Peter Shilton and Lev Yashin, Gordon Banks was one of the finest custodians to have played this beautiful game. He was a part of the 1966 World Cup that England went on to win with a resounding victory over West Germany in the grand finale. He has a fascinating story that said that he was axed from Rawmarsh after conceding 15 goals in two matches. But as they say that the biggest virtue of a great in any discipline is a never-ending spirit of giving up come hell or high waters.
Banks hung in the middle and went onto kiss unimaginable heights in the offing to arrive. He pulled off clean sheets until the semi-final of the 1966 World Cup, surging past the likes of Uruguay, Mexico, France, and Argentina only to be beaten once in the semi-final against legendary Eusebio. With all said and done, he pulled off his life’s best save in the 1970 World Cup where he denied an insinuating header from Pele, leaving the world starstruck at his brilliance.
This man was the heart of Brazil’s creativity in their pursuit of glory, and he played a crucial role in their 2002 World Cup triumph. There were multiple traits that defined Ronaldinho’s dazzling magnificence. We fans are only acclimatized to the insane dribbles and belting free kicks, wherein the smiling mercenary is far more magical on the field with his other defining aspects.
Ronaldinho’s most searing element was his endurance that made him recover faster from injuries than any other fellow footballer. However, the most defining moment for him in the solitary World Cup won by him came in the quarter-finals against England, where he curled an insane free-kick to pump Brazil back to the fore. He was also an emphatic part of the following World Cup, but Brazil failed to impress and crashed out of the fray prematurely.
9. Andres Iniesta
It was indeed a befitting spectacle, or you may call it poetic justice, that Iniesta hammered the winning blow for the Spaniards in the grand finale of the 2010 FIFA World Cup.
Spain was on the brink of crashing out of the tournament after losing out their opening fixture. However, they staged a strong turnaround courtesy of David Villa upfront, spearheading the Spanish armada. Despite Villa firing the shots, it was Iniesta who strung together the opportunities for the strikers to strike home. His picture-perfect dribbles and those clinically precise through-balls were one of the reasons why Spain was successful in keeping most of their opposition pegged down to their own half.
8. Lothar Matthaus
It is not easy to be termed as Maradona’s best rival, and the German icon bagged this moniker from God himself. It was in 1986 final where Mathaus marked Maradona, but yet his Herculean efforts fell short as Argentina walked away with the bragging rights. Yet, Mathaus brought an advanced version of himself in the following World Cup and was finally successful in lifting the trophy.
A late penalty from Andreas Brehme sealed the deal for the Germans. The German midfielder played in five FIFA World Cups, an impressive record for an outfield player. His blistering box-to-box runs and those searing shots from the range made him an absolute menace in the Teutonic colors.
7. Zinedine Zidane
Ronaldo Luis Nazario De Lima was at his scintillating best in the 1998 and the 2002 World Cup, and yet Zidane single-handedly destroyed the Seleccao in the finals. The French team has always been a reckoning force in the football canon, and there has always been an individual with a moment of insanity to throw it all away. May it be Patrice Evra or the iconic Zizou, they do not care what happens, but justice must be served at all costs.
Zidane’s fluidity in the midfield and his voracity to score in the big matches made him a fan favourite. One of the most adept footballers at pulling off successful roulettes and belt out those meaty pile-drivers, Zidane was a part of two World Cup finals, and he scored in both. Against Brazil, he grabbed an all-important brace that defied the magic of Samba, and in 2006, he speared home a frigid spot-kick before head-butting Marco Materazzi and heading to the dugout with his head still held high.
6. Miroslav Klose
Germany’s most intimidating goal-machine known for various kinds of strikes, Klose holds the record of the highest number of goals in the FIFA World Cup with 16 strikes next to his name. An absolute predator, he could flip the ball into the back of the net from any distance or any window, irrespective of the fact of how acute it seemed. He wasn’t anyone extraordinary but whenever it came to the World Cup, he was always at the right end of a technically askew pass, laying it down in his stride and slicing the net with an emphatic strike.
The man was a famished beast in front of the German goal and will always be remembered as the best finisher in German history at the World Cup. He is also the only player to have played 4 semi-finals.
The Little Wren was one of the most illustrious compatriots of the Emperor of football, as he played a crucial part in shaping the fortune of the 1962 World Cup. He had a deformity of twisted legs and yet the way he pranced and swiveled past the defenders, turning and twisting them into an impregnable Guardian Knot, it was absolutely magical to behold.
Sadly, his career took nosedived into a tailspin due to an overwhelming hedonistic blur, and he or anyone could do absolutely nothing to arrest the decline. At the age of 25 years, the Joy of People or the Angel with Bent Legs, call him whatever you want to, fired four brilliant strikes to help Brazil lift the hallowed silverware.
4. Fabio Cannavaro
It is not easy to grab the void that was left by the iconic Paolo Maldini and yet Cannavaro came out with flying colors when the calling arrived.
Cannavaro took over the captaincy of the Italian national team after the 2002 FIFA World Cup and rocked the entire world with an aggressive brand of defending that helped Italy lift the World Cup in 2006. Alongside Buffon, he was the only one to play every single minute of the tournament. The most burning ode to his defensive brilliance was that Italy considered only two goals throughout the tournament, and one of them was a spot-kick, while the other was an own goal.
3. Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima
El Fenomeno or the phenomenon, Ronaldo, was the Harry Houdini of international football. Easing his way past a phalanx of illustrious defenders, dancing, dribbling, and tormenting his way to the goal, Ronaldo was absolutely unstoppable. He went to the 1994 World Cup and couldn’t bag a solitary appearance. Four years later, he turned out into a menacing force for Brazil. Sadly, after a resounding display throughout the span of the tournament, he had a convulsion just on the eve of the grand finale and was not at his ‘phenomenal’ best.
However, when he arrived in Asia, four years later, he was hungry for a shot at redemption. His haircut was another moot for debate in the 2002 World Cup, which the Brazilian striker claimed was simply a distraction for others to conceal his cruciate injury. England was the solitary team that could keep Fenomeno at bay, only to be ravaged by Ronaldinho. He scored in every other match, which included an all-important world-changing brace in the final against the Titan, Oliver Kahn.
2. Diego Armando Maradona
Whenever the discourse has raged wild, trying to pick out a better between Maradona and Pele, the conclusion has always been that Pele definitely went on to win more World Cups than the Argentine, but Maradona single-handedly punched heroically above his weight to lift the World Cup for his nation.
Keeping aside those mad statistics and the debate of the handball in the final against England, he was absolutely untenable. He could suddenly come to life in the middle of the game and speed his way past a slew of defenders at volition.
He kept on scoring on and on and on for Cosmos and yet people only know him for his glorious stint for Brazil. His first appearance in the FIFA World Cup came in 1958 where he lifted the award for the Best Young Player of the Tournament. The following years explored the synergy between him, Vava, and Garrincha that won Brazil the hallowed silverware. In the 1958 semi-final, he blasted a hat-trick and bagged an imperative brace in the finale to romp past a soaring Sweden.
Pele came out at his majestic best in the World Cup after 8 years that saw him unfolding and wrecking all the other oppositions of the world. His powerful and imaginative stature in that World Cup was a testimony to his scintillating brilliance. There were two most captivating moments of the fray, where he blasted from the midway line to grab one of the most dazzling strikes of the World Cup. He also produced an ingenious move round the Uruguayan custodian to leave him flat-lined, scoring an ingenious finish that established the fact that he was indeed the best player to win the World Cup.