The greatest players in the world of soccer are often compared by whether or not they have won the World Cup. This SportsAspire post lists some true greats of the game, who have been unfortunate enough to never win the coveted World Cup.
Chokers or Unlucky?
Nine Dutch players — Johnny Rep, Arie Haan, Johan Neeskens, Rob Rensenbrink, Ruud Krol, René van de Kerkhof, Wim Suurbier, Wim Jansen, and Jan Jongbloed — played in the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals, losing both games!
The FIFA World Cup is a lure for every budding footballer in the world. It is the holy grail that every knight in a shining soccer jersey looks forward to lifting. But for every player who succeeds in winning the alluring trophy, countless others bite the dust. The beaten gladiators in this global arena shouldn’t be forgotten, because, some of the biggest legends of the game have ended their glorious careers without ever having won the World Cup.
Winning the World Cup is just as much a battle of technical and physical prowess as a battle of mental resilience, a battle to adapt to foreign conditions, and the ability to conjure up the marvelous out of nothing. Winning or losing the World Cup is very often balanced on a knife’s edge — one goal changes the complexion of the game, and every small mistake is fatal. To reach the World Cup final, or indeed even qualify for the tournament itself, is no mean feat.
Here’s a list of the greatest soccer players who didn’t win the World Cup.
This compilation is the writer’s personal choice — opinions may differ. This list includes only those players who have retired from international football at the time of writing.
Often the most underrated position of any champion team, great goalkeepers do more than just making saves — they rescue vital points, make last-ditch blocks, and organize their defenses to keep out the opposition. No team in the history of the game has sustained a long run of success without having a strong, agile, and alert goalkeeper guarding their net. Here’s the ten greatest goalies who ran out of luck when it came to winning a World Cup.
Lev Yashin ( Goalkeeper )
October 22, 1929 – March 20, 1990
International Career: 1954 – 1967 (78 appearances)
Yashin is considered as the best goalkeeper in the history of the game. His incredible reflexes and his black kit gave him the nickname ‘The Black Spider’. Yashin was one of the very first keepers to be able to play as a defensive ‘sweeper’. This tactic is virtually ever-present in the modern game, and the credit goes to Yashin and fellow goalkeeping legend Gyula Grosics.
In his 13 years as the undisputed first choice goalkeeper of the USSR soccer team, and an outstanding 20-year club career with Dynamo Moscow, Yashin gained many fans, but sadly, couldn’t make it past the semifinals of the World Cup.
Gyula Grosics ( Goalkeeper )
Born: February 4, 1926
International Career: 1947 – 1962 (86 appearances)
Grosics was part of one of the best international teams in history, the Magical Magyars Hungarian team of the 1950s and ’60s. Many modern tactics in soccer were implemented for the first time by this Hungarian team. Grosics is said to have invented the role of the keeper-sweeper. He was an incredibly talented shot-stopper, earning him the name ‘Black Panther’.
Despite Grosics being adjudged as the best goalkeeper of the 1954 World Cup, Hungary lost the final against West Germany.
Peter Schmeichel ( Goalkeeper )
Born: November 18, 1963
International Career: 1987 – 2001 (129 appearances)
Schmeichel won the Euro 1992 with the Danish soccer team, in a defensive system based around the great goalkeeper’s ability to keep opponents out, but was largely disappointed on the intercontinental stage. Denmark didn’t qualify for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, but reached the quarterfinals in 1998.
Schmeichel is famous for his highly successful stint with the English club Manchester United, from 1991 to 1999. He is considered one of the best goalkeepers ever to play the game, and once topped a public poll about the same. Schmeichel was a shot-stopper par brilliance, but was especially known for using his 6’3” frame to great success in one-on-one situations against onrushing attackers. His eight years at Manchester United were among the most successful in the club’s history, and his manager, Sir Alex Ferguson, described the deal to buy him for £505,000 as ‘the bargain of the century’.
Oliver Kahn ( Goalkeeper )
Born: June 15, 1969
International Career: 1994 – 2006 (86 appearances)
Oliver Kahn, widely regarded as the best German goalkeeper in history, spent the majority of his trophy-laden career with German giants Bayern Munich, winning several annual awards for his goalkeeping heroics.
His international career included highs such as the victory in the 1996 Euro Championship, and lows such as defeat in the 2002 World Cup final. Despite the latter, he became the first, and, as yet, only goalkeeper to be awarded the Golden Ball, the prize awarded to the best player in a World Cup tournament.
Ray Clemence ( Goalkeeper )
Born: August 5, 1948
International Career: 1972 – 1984 (61 appearances)
Clemence was often overshadowed by another legendary English goalkeeper, Peter Shilton, and never achieved World Cup glory.
Clemence is best remembered as being an invaluable part of the dominant Liverpool teams of the ’70s. During his 14-year stay at the famed club, he became one of the most decorated players in the world. He also set a record that was never beaten in a 42-game soccer season: in the 1978 – 79 season, Liverpool, with Clemence ever-present in goal, conceded just 16 goals in 42 games, including an unbelievable 4 in 21 games at home. The record stood until 2005, when Chelsea conceded 15 goals in 38 games.
Rinat Dasayev ( Goalkeeper )
Born: June 13, 1957
International Career: 1979 – 1990 (91 appearances)
Dasayev is considered the second-best Russian goalkeeper after Yashin, and was widely regarded as one of the best in the world in the 1980s. He was known as the ‘Iron Curtain’, due to him being Russian and very difficult to beat in goal.
Despite winning the bronze medal in the 1980 Olympics and silver in the 1988 Euro Championships, USSR never got to the quarterfinals of a World Cup.
José Luis Chilavert ( Goalkeeper )
Born: July 27, 1965
International Career: 1989 – 2003 (74 appearances)
Chilavert was as famous for his consistent heroics for Paraguay as he was for being one of the highest scoring goalkeepers in the history of the game. His eight goals for Paraguay is a goal-scoring record for goalkeepers in international matches, while his total of 62 goals is only exceeded by Rogério Ceni.
Paraguay didn’t qualify for the World Cup in 1990 and 1994. They were knocked out in the round of 16 by eventual champions France in 1998, and at the same stage by eventual finalists Germany in 2002.
Edwin van der Sar ( Goalkeeper )
Born: October 20, 1970
Country: The Netherlands
International Career: 1995 – 2008 (130 appearances)
Edwin van der Sar is, to date, the only goalkeeper to win the UEFA Champions League — the top continental prize for European clubs — with two clubs, Ajax in 1995 and Manchester United in 2008. He also holds the record for the most appearances for the Netherlands national team. In the 2008 – 09 season, he set another world record in league football, when he went 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal.
Edwin is one of several Dutch players who have suffered from the national team’s long-standing inability to deliver the goods on the big stage. During his career, the Dutch never made it past the semifinals of a World Cup, and ignominiously failed to qualify for the 2002 edition. Two years after his retirement, Netherlands again reached the World Cup final in 2010, only to lose for the third time.
Peter Shilton ( Goalkeeper )
Born: September 18, 1949
International Career: 1970 – 1990 (125 appearances)
Shilton is a legend in the English game, and holds the record for the most appearances for the national team. He is also one of the very few players to have played more than 1,000 competitive matches; he is the only one to have played more than 100 games for five clubs. Soon after his debut in 1966 as a 16-year old, his performances convinced his club, Leicester City, to retain him and sell England’s 1966 World Cup-winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks.
Shilton was involved in one of the most notorious games in World Cup history: the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal game against Argentina. This iconic match included Diego Maradona’s infamous ‘Hand of God’ goal, and his second goal in the match, which was scored after a solo run beating almost the entire England defense, was chosen as the best goal in World Cup history.
Jean-Marie Pfaff ( Goalkeeper )
Born: December 4, 1953
International Career: 1976 – 1987 (64 appearances)
Pfaff was at the core of the unprecedented success of the Belgium national team in the 1980s. Boosted by the emergence of players such as Enzo Scifo, Eric Gerets, and Jan Ceulemans, Belgium finished as runners-up in the 1980 Euro Championships, and reached the semifinal of the 1986 World Cup, where they were knocked out by eventual champions Argentina.
Pfaff is one of only three Belgian players selected by Pelé in his personal list of 100 greatest living footballers.
The bedrock of every success, the defense is responsible for keeping the opposition out, and feeding their side’s attacking players to initiate their own attacks. In terms of importance to winning a game, defenders are even more important than strikers, since even the slightest mistake by the defenders can directly result in a loss for the team.
Here are 10 legendary defenders who never experienced World Cup glory.
Phil Neal ( Defender )
Born: February 20, 1951
International Career: 1976 – 1983 (50 appearances)
Neal’s greatest years at Liverpool coincided with a drop in the national team’s performance, which failed to qualify for the 1974 and 1978 World Cups. Neal was selected in the 1982 and 1986 World Cup squads, but the team never made it past the quarterfinals.
Phil Neal is among the most decorated British players of all time, along with Ryan Giggs (who holds the top spot in the list), Paul Scholes, and Neal’s old teammate, Alan Hansen. Neal played for Liverpool for 12 seasons, and during 10 of them, from 1975 – 76 to 1984 – 85, he only missed one league game! Between 1976 and 1984, where he missed the solitary league game, he played in every game for the club, including league matches, domestic cups, and European matches. Surprisingly, even though he was a defender by trade, he was Liverpool’s first choice penalty taker, and scored a penalty in Liverpool’s European Cup final win in 1977.
Ronald Koeman ( Defender )
Born: March 21, 1963
Country: The Netherlands
International Career: 1982 – 1994 (78 appearances)
Koeman was an accomplished and much-decorated defender, and was also famous for his attacking runs and long-range shooting, which provided a different dimension to his team’s attacking play. In a highly successful career, Koeman played for numerous European sides, including the Barcelona ‘Dream Team’ of the early ’90s.
Paolo Maldini ( Defender )
Born: June 26, 1968
International Career: 1988 – 2002 (126 appearances)
Maldini’s international career flourished between two of Italy’s four World Cup triumphs: 1982 and 2006. The Italian team lost in the semifinals of the 1990 World Cup (but won the third place playoff), and was beaten on penalties in the final of the 1994 World Cup, in the quarterfinals in 1998, and in the round of 16 (pre-quarters) in 2002.
Maldini is as famous for his elegant, cerebral style of defending as the simply astounding longevity of his career, and his unwavering loyalty to his hometown club, AC Milan. Maldini played for Milan from 1985 to 2009, and captained them for more than 10 years. He jointly holds the record of appearing in the most European Cup/Champions League finals, with 8 appearances, including an astonishing 5 victories. Despite being right-footed, he played as a central or left-sided defender. His defensive style was based around intelligently anticipating play and positioning himself to avoid goals and through balls, rather than flying into tackles at every possible opportunity. Despite being a defender, he only averaged around one tackle in every two games!
Giacinto Facchetti ( Defender )
July 18, 1942 – September 4, 2006
International Career: 1963 – 1977 (94 appearances)
Facchetti was one of the first attacking full-backs, a role taken for granted in the modern game. He was an essential part of the notorious catenaccio formation that brought Inter Milan much success in the 1960s and ’70s. He represented Inter Milan for his entire senior career, spanning 18 seasons.
In the duration of his career, the Italian team failed to qualify for the 1966 World Cup, but came back strongly to finish runners-up to a brilliant Brazil side in the 1970 final. They lost in the first round in 1974. However, they won the 1968 Euro Championships.
Fernando Hierro ( Defender )
Born: March 23, 1968
International Career: 1989 – 2002 (89 appearances)
On the international stage, Hierro played in four World Cups, but the teams lost in the knockout rounds in 1990, 1994 and 2002, and didn’t even progress to the knockout stage in 1998.
Hierro was one of the highest-scoring defenders of all time. He was equally comfortable in defense or midfield, and was one of the best tacklers as well as passers in the world during his career. In the 1991 – 92 season, while playing for Real Madrid, Hierro topped the club’s scoring tally with 21 goals, finishing second in the league goalscorers chart. He is the fourth highest scorer for the Spanish national team, only bettered by strikers Raul, David Villa, and Fernando Torres. Hierro even has a better goal-to-games ratio than Torres.
Elias Figueroa ( Defender )
Born: October 25, 1946
International Career: 1966 – 1982 (47 appearances)
Figueroa is widely regarded as the best Chilean footballer ever. Taking into account that he’s a defender, this is high praise indeed. He was famous for his calm, intelligent defending, and ability to quickly initiate counterattacks for his attacking players.
Chile managed to qualify for the 1966, 1974, and 1982 World Cups, but couldn’t progress past the group stage in any of the three.
Alan Hansen ( Defender )
Born: June 13, 1955
International Career: 1979 – 1987 (26 appearances)
Hansen was the defensive partner of Phil Neal at the all-conquering Liverpool sides in the 1980s. One of the many Scottish players bought by Liverpool, he is one of the very few players to win the English League title in three decades. Along with colleague Phil Neal, he is one of the most decorated players in the English game.
Despite the presence of accomplished, decorated players such as Hansen, Kenny Dalglish, Danny McGrain, Graeme Souness, and Gordon Strachan, Scotland never made it past the first round of the 1982 and 1986 World Cups. In fact, they have never progressed past the first round in their World Cup history.
José Santamaria ( Defender )
Born: July 31, 1929
Country: Uruguay, Spain
International Career: Uruguay – 1952-1957 (20 appearances), Spain – 1958 – 1962 (16 appearances)
Santamaria is regarded as one of the best defenders ever, and was instrumental in Real Madrid’s early dominance of the European Cup. After joining Real Madrid in 1957, he won 4 European cups and 5 league championships.
Despite being included in the All-Star team at the 1954 World Cup, where Uruguay lost out in the semifinal against the Mighty Magyars, Santamaria could never replicate his club glory with either Uruguay or Spain.
Jaap Stam ( Defender )
Born: July 17, 1972
Country: The Netherlands
International Career: 1996 – 2004 (67 appearances)
Stam had successful spells with clubs like Manchester United and AC Milan, capped off with the Champions League win with Manchester United in 1999. He had both physical and mental attributes of a defender. He was 6’3” tall, dominated aerial duels, and read the flow of the game excellently to make perfectly timed tackles and interceptions.
Stam reached the semifinal of the 1998 World Cup with the Netherlands, but they failed to qualify for the 2002 competition when he was around.
Marius Trésor ( Defender )
Born: January 15, 1950
International Career: 1971 – 1983 (65 appearances)
Trésor is regarded as one of the best French defenders of all time. He was named in the ‘FIFA 100’ list of the greatest living players, compiled by Pelé.
Trésor played in the 1978 and 1982 World Cups, with his team going out in the group stage and semifinals, respectively.
The midfield is arguably the most important zone on the playing field. Midfielders dictate the tempo of the game, they help out the defense, they assist the strikers, and get on the score-sheet themselves. In the modern game, the midfield is seen as the zone that needs to dominate if the team is to win.
Here are the greatest midfield generals who never got to hold aloft the World Cup trophy.
George Best ( Midfielder )
May 22, 1946 – November 25, 2005
Country: Northern Ireland
International Career: 1964 – 1977 (37 appearances)
Best was one of the first ‘bad boy’ superstars of soccer. His mind-blowing displays on the field were no match for his notorious antics off it, and he is regarded, especially by Manchester United fans, as one of the greatest players in the history of the game.
Despite having arguably the best player in the world at the time, the Northern Ireland soccer team didn’t qualify for the 1966, 1970, and 1974 World Cups.
Johan Cruyff ( Midfielder )
Born: April 25, 1947
Country: The Netherlands
International Career: 1966 – 1974 (48 appearances)
Cruyff is universally considered one of the best players of all time. He was an influential proponent of ‘Total Football’, a visionary tactical system. He won countless trophies in a highly successful career, spent mostly with Ajax Amsterdam and Barcelona. He also went on to win numerous honors with both the clubs as manager.
Cruyff captained what is claimed to be the best team not to have won the World Cup. In the 1974 World Cup, the Netherlands national team, playing an exhilarating brand of ‘Total Football’, marched into the final, but were beaten 2-1 by West Germany, despite taking the lead before any German player had touched the ball! After Cruyff retired from international football, the Netherlands reached, and lost, another World Cup final in 1978.
Michel Platini ( Midfielder )
Born: June 21, 1955
International Career: 1976 – 1987 (72 appearances)
Platini’s time with France brought about a golden era for Les Bleus. They won Euro 1984, with Platini finishing as the top scorer with 9 goals. Despite this, they were knocked out in the semifinals of both the 1982 and 1986 World Cups.
Platini, who is currently the president of the European soccer’s administrative organization, UEFA, is one of the highest-scoring midfielders of all time. Platini scored 312 goals in 580 club games, including 224 in 432 league matches, a goal-to-game ratio surpassing most strikers. He remained the highest scorer for the French national team for more than 20 years, and still has a better goal-to-game ratio that the current top scorer Thierry Henry. Platini only played in one edition of the Euro Championship, the 1984 edition, but is still the highest scorer in the history of the tournament (excluding qualifying).
Ryan Giggs ( Midfielder )
Born: November 29, 1973
International Career: 1991 – 2007 (64 appearances)
Despite the increasingly regular emergence of talents such as Giggs, Mark Hughes, Gareth Bale, Craig Bellamy, Gary Speed, and Aaron Ramsey, Wales have not qualified for a World Cup after their lone appearance in 1958.
Ryan Giggs is the most decorated British player in history. He has played out his entire career with Manchester United, and has been an integral part of the club’s tremendous success in the 1990s and 2000s. He holds the records for the most appearances for Manchester United, and the most appearances by any player in the English Premier League. He also holds the near-impossible-to-break record of scoring in 23 consecutive seasons of the English Premier League, and 16 distinct seasons of the UEFA Champions League.
Zico ( Midfielder )
Born: March 3, 1953
International Career: 1976 – 1988 (72 appearances)
Zico competed in the 1978, 1982, and 1986 World Cups, but they couldn’t advance past the semifinals. The 1982 Brazil squad is regarded as one of the best teams not to win the World Cup, bowing out against eventual champions Italy in the semifinal.
When a player is known as the ‘White Pele’, you know he isn’t going to be a slouch. Arthur Antunes Coimbra, better known as Zico, is considered to be one of the best players in history, and was widely regarded as the best player in the world during the 1970s and ’80s, despite the presence of players such as Paolo Rossi, Diego Maradona, and Kenny Dalglish. He was renowned for his playmaking abilities, as well as dead-ball prowess.
Michael Laudrup ( Midfielder )
Born: June 15, 1964
International Career: 1982 – 1998 (104 appearances)
Laudrup is considered the best playmaker in history. Many of Laudrup’s past teammates and opponents consider him as the best player ever. He was famed for his dribbling ability, passing, and extraordinary vision. Johan Cruyff, his manager at Barcelona, once commented that even at 80 – 90%, Laudrup was by far the best player on the pitch.
Despite possessing one of the strongest squads in national history, Denmark lost in the Round of 16 at the 1986 World Cup, in the quarterfinals in 1998, and didn’t qualify for the 1990 and 1994 editions. Ironically, Laudrup, voted the best Danish player ever, missed the greatest moment in Danish footballing history, when he opted to sit out Denmark’s victorious 1992 Euro campaign.
Francisco Gento ( Midfielder )
Born: October 21, 1933
International Career: 1955 – 1969 (43 appearances)
Despite the presence of the legendary Alfredo Di Stéfano, Spain failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup, and failed to make it past the group stage in 1962 and 1966.
Gento is a legend in European football. He is the only player to have won 6 European Cups (later rebranded as the Champions League), and the only one to have appeared in 9 continental finals. He was a crucial part of Real Madrid’s dominance over the European Cup in its nascent days. Madrid won the first five editions of the continental trophy, and Gento won it again in 1966. In addition to the 6 European Cups, Gento also won an astounding 12 Spanish league titles.
Johan Neeskens ( Midfielder )
Born: September 15, 1951
Country: The Netherlands
International Career: 1970 – 1981 (49 appearances)
Neeskens was an important member of the Netherlands national team in the 1970s, and like many other members of that team, came to prominence at Ajax Amsterdam. Neeskens’ tactical flexibility — he started out as a right back, before moving into the central midfield role — and stamina were a crucial part of the Dutch tactics of ‘Total Football’.
Neeskens is one of the few unfortunate players to have lost 2 World Cup finals. The Dutch team advanced to the finals in both 1974 and 1978, having been tournament favorites in both, but were beaten by West Germany and Argentina, respectively.
Paul Scholes ( Midfielder )
Born: November 16, 1974
International Career: 1997 – 2004 (66 appearances)
Paul Scholes, club legend at Manchester United, is among the most decorated players in the British game. He spent his entire career with Manchester United, helping the team to numerous successes on the domestic as well as the continental front. 2010 World Cup-winner Xavi described Scholes as the best midfielder of a generation consisting of legends such as Zinedine Zidane, Luis Figo, Ryan Giggs, David Beckham, Andrea Pirlo, Frank Lampard, Steven Gerrard, and Xavi himself. Scholes started out as a striker, before moving into a deeper, playmaking role, and won acclaim for his composure with the ball, unhurried, accurate passing, and long-distance shooting.
Scholes was one of England’s underachieving ‘Golden Generation’. Despite possessing a squad filled with legends of the game such as Beckham, Lampard, Gerrard, Michael Owen, Wayne Rooney, Gary Neville, David Seaman, Sol Campbell, John Terry, and Rio Ferdinand, the English team lost (on penalties) to Argentina in the 1998 round of 16, to eventual champions Brazil in the 2002 quarterfinal, and to Portugal (on penalties, again!) in the 2006 quarterfinal.
Stanley Matthews ( Midfielder )
February 1, 1915 – February 23, 2000
International Career: 1934 – 1957 (54 appearances)
Matthews made his World Cup debut in the 1950 World Cup, at the age of 35. England exited at the group stage. Four years later, the evergreen Stanley Matthews went to another World Cup, but England fell in the quarterfinals.
Matthews was well-known for his skills on the soccer pitch, as well as his strict diet and fitness regime, which allowed him to play at the premier level for an unbelievable 33 years! Playing in the time of the old, heavy balls, Matthews was famous for his close control and crossing ability. Despite being significantly weaker on his left foot, and a poor header of the ball, Matthews is often considered as one of the best English footballers ever.
The most ‘glamorous’ positions in the game of soccer, the forwards are primarily tasked with scoring their team’s goals. These players are either tall and strong, and can play as the ‘target man’, or quick and agile, and can play as the ‘poacher’ or the ‘second striker’. In many modern formations, forwards are often used as auxiliary wingers, to increase the threat of the team’s attack.
Here are the 10 greatest forwards who never struck home the World Cup.
Eusébio ( Forward )
Born: January 25, 1942
International Career: 1961 – 1973 (64 appearances, 41 goals)
Portugal didn’t qualify for the World Cup in 1962 and 1970. A Eusébio-led Portugal were the team to watch out for in 1966, but were defeated by eventual champions England in the semifinals, with Eusébio marked out of the game by the great Nobby Stiles.
Eusébio is considered the best Portuguese footballer ever, high praise for a man competing with the likes of Luis Figo and Cristiano Ronaldo. Eusébio made his name with Portuguese giants Benfica, and burst onto the international scene in the 1966 World Cup, scoring 9 goals. Born in Mozambique, he became one of the best representatives of African football through his exploits for Mozambique’s colonial rulers, Portugal. He was also known as a thorough gentleman. He is known in Portugal as O Rei (the king), the same nickname as Pelé.
Alfredo Di Stéfano ( Forward )
July 4, 1926 – July 7, 2014
Country: Argentina – 1947 (6 appearances, 6 goals), Colombia – 1949 (4 appearances, no goals), Spain – 1957 – 1961 (31 appearances, 23 goals)
Alfredo Di Stéfano is widely regarded as one of the best players in history. Several former players, including the likes of Pelé and Eusébio, have called Stéfano ‘the most complete footballer in the history of the game’. He was known to switch positions during the game, dropping deep (even up to his own penalty area) to collect the ball, and distributing it intelligently. After making his name at Colombian club Millionarios, he arrived at Real Madrid in 1953. It was at Madrid that Stéfano would show the world his true class. Along with Francisco Gento and Ferenc Puskas, he was an irreplaceable component of the irrepressible Real Madrid side of the 1950s, and won the first 5 European Cups.
Tragically, Stéfano never appeared in a World Cup. While he was an Argentinian citizen, the country refused to participate in the 1950 and 1954 World Cups. Playing for Spain, the national team failed to qualify for the 1958 World Cup, and while the team qualified in 1962, Stéfano was injured in the buildup to the tournament, and had to sit it out.
Ferenc Puskas ( Forward )
April 1, 1927 – November 17, 2006
International Career: Hungary – 1945 – 1956 (85 appearances, 84 goals), Spain – 1961 – 1962 (4 appearances, no goals)
Puskas was the captain of Hungary’s Magical Magyars, and led them to the 1954 World Cup final, where they were beaten by a resilient West Germany. In the 1962 World Cup, now playing for Spain, Puskas had to be content with a group stage exit.
Puskas is one of the greatest goalscorers of all time, despite not being an out-and-out striker, and is considered one of the all-time greats. He, along with Alfredo Di Stéfano, were the feared strikeforce that propelled Real Madrid to European and domestic dominance. Puskas is also said to have created the position of the ‘deep-lying center forward’, or ‘second striker’.
Marco van Basten ( Forward )
Born:October 31, 1964
Country: The Netherlands
International Career: 1983 – 1992 (58 appearances, 24 goals)
Van Basten won the 1988 Euro Championship with the Netherlands, scoring a famous volley in the final, but couldn’t emulate the form on the global stage. Netherlands failed to qualify for the 1986 World Cup, losing in a playoff to neighbors Belgium, and lost in the knockout round in 1990.
Scorer of probably the most famous goal in Euro Championship history, Van Basten was one of the most gifted forwards in the 1980s. Like so many great Dutch players, he started his senior career at Ajax, scoring more than 100 goals there, before switching to AC Milan. He was a vital cog in AC Milan’s domestic and continental dominance in the late ’80s and early ’90s, before his career was tragically cut short by a recurring injury.
Kenny Dalglish ( Forward )
Born: March 4, 1951
International Career: 1971 – 1986 (102 appearances, 30 goals)
Though Scotland possessed a strong core of talented individuals, they could never make it big on the international stage, and crashed out in the first round of the 1974, 1978, 1982, and 1986 World Cups, going out on goal difference in the first three.
Dalglish became a famous name in British football with Scottish giants Celtic, before cementing his place in football folklore with a move to a flourishing Liverpool team. His 13 years as a Liverpool player (he also managed the team for the last 5 of them) brought 3 European Cups, along with countless domestic trophies. He excelled in the ‘second striker’ position, controlling the game with his brilliant playmaking and finishing ability. His partnership with Ian Rush is one of the most successful in English history. Dalglish was selected by FourFourTwo magazine as the best post-war British striker, and he also topped a fan poll about the greatest ever Liverpool player.
Karl-Heinz Rummenigge ( Forward )
Born: September 25, 1955
Country: West Germany
International Career: 1976 – 1986 (95 appearances, 45 goals)
Rummenigge started out at German giants Bayern Munich, and quickly established himself on the teamsheet. He and midfielder Paul Breitner were influential in continuing Bayern’s era of dominance in Germany. Playing as a striker or an attacking midfielder, Rummenigge made more than 400 appearances for Die Roten.
Rummenigge holds the unfortunate distinction of being the only player to captain the losing team in a World Cup final twice. West Germany reached consecutive finals in 1982, 1986, and 1990, losing the first against Italy, and the second against a Maradona-inspired Argentina. West Germany won the title in 1990, but Rummenigge had retired by then.
Fernando Peyroteo ( Forward )
March 10, 1918 – November 28, 1978
International Career: 1938 – 1947 (20 appearances, 14 goals)
In more than 10 years with Sporting Lisbon (Sporting Clube de Portugal), Peyroteo scored 543 goals in just 334 games! Peyroteo is often a forgotten man in compilations of the best players in history, but his goal-to-game ratio is untouched, even 60 years after he left Sporting.
Peyroteo’s career was blighted by the Second World War, and he never got to play in a World Cup tournament.
Raúl ( Forward )
Born: June 27, 1977
International Career: 1996 – 2006 (102 appearances, 44 goals)
Though Raúl played for Spain for 10 years, he didn’t win any major honors. The Spanish national team bowed out in the group stage of the 1998 World Cup, in the quarterfinals in 2002, and in the round of 16 in 2006.
Raúl became the youngest player to play for Real Madrid, when he made his debut in 1994, and despite his tender age, he became a permanent fixture in the Spanish side. He stayed with Real for 16 years, until he was sold in 2010. In more than 700 appearances, Raúl has scored more than 300 goals for Los Merengues. He is currently the highest goalscorer in the Champions League, having scored 71 goals in Europe’s premier competition.
Alan Shearer ( Forward )
Born: August 13, 1970
International Career: 1992 – 2000 (63 appearances, 30 goals)
Shearer is the highest goalscorer in the English Premier League, having scored 260 goals for Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United. He is also the only player to have scored more than 100 goals for two English clubs. He was known for being the classic English center-forward, using his strength and physical superiority to dominate opponents, rather than finesse and skill.
Shearer was an essential component of England’s 1994 and 1998 World Cup campaigns, but the team failed to qualify for the former, and were knocked out in the round of 16 in the latter.
Dennis Bergkamp ( Forward )
Born: May 10, 1969
Country: The Netherlands
International Career: 1990 – 2000 (79 appearances, 37 goals)
Dennis Bergkamp was an expert in the ‘second striker’ role, and formed a deadly partnership at Arsenal with Thierry Henry. Originally a wide midfielder, he was converted to the trequartista role by Arsene Wenger, and controlled Arsenal’s attacking play from the crucial position.
During Bergkamp’s time with the Dutch national team, the Oranje lost in the quarterfinals at the 1994 World Cup, and in the semifinals in 1998.
As you can see, some of the biggest names in soccer have not tasted World Cup glory. It just goes to show that when it comes to judging a player’s success, the number of trophies accumulated by him should not be the only criterion.
To sign off, here’s a list of the greatest currently active footballers who are most at risk of finishing their careers without a World Cup win to their name.
Can the diminutive wizard pull off the greatest trick in the trade in 2014?
Can the relentless colossus set Portugal on the track to victory?
Can the inspirational captain incite an England victory?
Can the aging legs of the Chelsea legend drag England to World Cup glory?
Robin van Persie:
Can the unstoppable striker blaze a path for the Netherlands to finally break their World Cup hoodoo?
Can the wing maestro accomplish the ultimate achievement?
Can the maverick striker spearhead England’s campaign for glory?
Can the man with the trademarked name engineer an unprecedented rise for Sweden?
Can the Manchester City skipper lead a second wave of Red Devils into the World Cup?
Can ‘scarface’ add the one trophy that is missing from his collection?