PART ONE – PART TWO – PART THREE – PART FOUR
World Cup Legends
Some of the game’s greatest players have graced the World Cup through the years and rightfully are a part of its illustrious history. Football Espana runs through the tournament’s hall of fame.
Roberto Baggio – Italy 1990, 1994, 1998
Italy’s Divine Ponytail may never have won a World Cup but his mark on the tournament is indelible. Baggio introduced himself to the world during Italia ‘90. The host nation were favourites and the fresh-faced 23-year-old represented their great hope. His sublime goal in the opening round against Czechoslovakia is one of the best in World Cup history. Baggio’s promptingsand bursts from deep were a stark contrast to a tournament which advertised negative football.
Unfortunately, Azzurri Coach Azeglio Vicini himself became more cautious in the latter stages dropping Baggio to the bench for the decisive semi-final with Argentina. Italy lost on penalties. By 1994, Baggio was at his peak. Despite having an uneasy relationship with Coach Arrigo Sacchi, the Juventusstar carried Italy to the Final with five goals, including a virtuoso semi-final performance against Bulgaria. A thigh-injury robbed Baggio of his best form in time for the Final in the sweltering heat of Los Angeles. Italy lost on penalties to Brazil, cruelly Baggio ballooned the decisive kick over the bar.
By France ‘98 he put injuries and a few bad years at club level behind him to play a more subtle role as Italy again lost out on penalties – this time to France. His nine World Cup goals are a record for his nation – one he shares with Paolo Rossi and Christian Vieri.
Romario 1990, 1994
A workmanlike Brazil side would have stumbled badly at USA ‘94 had it not been for the quick and magical feet of Romario. The nippy forward played just once in a disappointing Italia ‘90 before making sure USA ‘94 was his tournament. This temperamental 27-year-old bagged five goals as the Selecao squeezed their way to a fourth and record-breaking World Cup success. The Barcelona man scored in each of the group games and in the best tie of the tournament – a 3-2 win over Holland.
His most crucial strike though was a rare header in the tight semi-final win over Sweden. Confident, arrogant and a deadly finisher, Romario’s penalty in the Final shoot-out against Italy – a nonchalant strike against the inside of the post – had the mark of a champion. A calf-injury forced Romario to miss France ‘98. We were denied a mouth-watering front three of Rivaldo, Ronaldo and Romario.
Zinedine Zidane – France 1998, 2002, 2006
Zinedine Zidane was the symbol of the French success in 1998. The talented playmaker finally demonstrated his class at international level after failing to deliver in two European Cup Finals and at Euro ’96. Zidane’s strength, guile and vision, helped Aime Jacquet’s side win the trophy for the first time.
ZZ’s tournament was in danger of collapsing when he was sent off for stamping on an opponent in a comfortable first round tie against Saudi Arabia. Fortunately for Les Blues, he got his game together helping the host nation past Italy and Croatia. In the Final the boy from Marseille of Algerian ancestry headed two goals to upstage Ronaldo and give France the crown.
Much was expected of Zizou four years later, but a thigh problem kept him out of his country’s first two games and he could do nothing to help them avoid a first round exit when he returned for their final group game. That was set to be his last World Cup given his international retirement after Euro 2004, but he was tempted out of the wilderness by boss Raymond Domenech. Zidane was voted as the best player of Germany 2006, but his last professional match – the World Cup Final – ended in shame. He’d given his country the lead, yet he was dismissed in extra-time for that infamous head-butt on Marco Materazzi. It was a sad ending for one of the game’s greatest.
Fabio Cannavaro – Italy 1998, 2002, 2006, 2010
They called Fabio Cannavaro the Berlin Wall during 2006 and justifiably so. Part of a measly Italian defence which conceded just two goals – an own goal and a penalty – Cannavaro was the biggest obstacle any team faced at Germany 2006. Having already tasted the bitter disappointment of shoot-out defeat in 1998 and a controversial exit to South Korea in 2002, the Juventus stopper knew 2006 was probably his last chance at glory.
Having inherited the captain’s armband following the retirement of Paolo Maldini four years earlier, Cannavaro was an inspiration for an Azzurri side who went into the tournament under the shadow of the Calciopoli scandal which would later rip apart his club side and lead to his Real Madrid transfer. Italy ended up winning the whole thing, with Cannavaro given the honour of hoisting the trophy into the Berlin sky on the evening of his 100th cap. Finishing behind Zinedine Zidane in the Player of the Tournament stakes, he would go on to win the Golden Ball later that year.
Cannavaro captained Italy again in 2010, but an ageing side spectacularly went out at the group stage after failing to collect a single win against Paraguay, New Zealand and Slovakia. Only Maldini, thanks to his 23 ties, has played in more World Cup games for Italy than Cannavaro who ended up with 18.