World Cup Legends – Part Three

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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.

Dino Zoff – Italy 1974, 1978, 1982

July 11, 1982, will live long in the memory of all Italians with a World Cup triumph after a 44-year-drought and Dino Zofflifting the trophy – at 40 the oldest player ever to do so. It was the crowning moment to a glorious career spanning three decades for the veteran goalkeeper who had virtually nothing in his trophy cabinet until he hit the age of 30. Spells withUdineseMantova and Napoli confirmed him as a prodigious ‘keeper. But it was not until he was spotted by Juventus in 1972 that the silverware started to mount up.

After a long spell battling for the Italy No 1 shirt with Enrico Albertosi he established himself as top dog for a record-breaking spell. Capped 112 times, he also put together an incredible run of 1,143 minutes without losing a goal in international football. The 1978 World Cup though was a cruel one for Zoff. The Azzurri needed to beat Holland to make it to the Final against Argentina and were leading when two thunderbolts from ErnieBrandts and Arie Haan left the great portiere rooted to the spot. His international career seemed in tatters.

Italy tried to experiment with younger ‘keepers, but the old guardian kept battling back. His form was such that by 1982 there was no way Italy could do without him in Spain. And he justified Enzo Bearzot’s faith with a string of inspirational performances as Italy took the trophy. He retired a season later and quickly turned his hand to management. After spells with the Italian Olympic team, Juventus and Lazio, he was called on to take over the national side in 1998, quitting after leading the Azzurri to second place at Euro 2000.

Diego Maradona – Argentina 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994

Diego Maradona is rightly regarded, along with Pele, as the greatest footballer of all-time. The Argentine made his World Cup debut in 1982 – impressing with two goals against Hungary – before a needless sending-off against Brazil as both he and Argentina crashed out at the second stage.

In 1986, Maradona took his game to a new level. He netted five times and created all of Argentina’s goals in the opening stage. His legendary performance against England is remembered for both the good and the bad, his Hand of God goal overshadowing the brilliant effort he scored quite legitimately and his brilliance against Belgium in the semi-finals when he scored another two. It was quite right that Maradona should lead Argentina to success in a 3-2 Final win over West Germany.

In Italia ‘90 a dour Argentina were still drawing inspiration from their captain. Playing a semi-final in his adopted home of Naples he guided Argentina to success against the Italian hosts on penalties. Argentina lost the Final to West Germany but that didn’t stop Maradona returning for USA ‘94. A brilliant goal against Greece seemed to suggest he might have some bearing on the competition but a now troubled Diego failed a dope test which revealed he had taken a cocktail of performance enhancing substances. He made 21 World Cup Finals appearances. It could and should have been more.

Lothar Matthaus – West Germany 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998

Lothar Matthaus played in a record-equalling five World Cups and deserves to be classed as one of the greatest players of all-time. He played in two Finals – losing to Argentina in 1986 before captaining West Germany to success against the same opposition at Italia ‘90. He was also part of the squad which lost the Final to Italy in 1982. Matthaus played just twice in that tournament, but at the tender age of 21 his best years were to come.

After domestic success with Bayern Munich he made his name at Mexico ‘86 scoring an 88th minute winner in the second round win over Morocco. West Germany stumbled to the Final where Matthaus man-marked Maradona. The Argentine won that duel, but Matthaus got his revenge. Playing in the centre of midfield he was without doubt the diamond of Italia ‘90. Four goals justified his importance to the team and he was rightly awarded European Football of The Year that season. His vision and tactical awareness marked a truly wonderful footballer.

He would go on to break the World Cup record for appearances, taking his tally to 25 after the 1994 and 1998 tournaments. By this stage a lack of pace and quality in the German team had been exposed and Matthaus often struggled in his new role as sweeper. But it’s a testament to his ability that at the age of 37 he was a regular for a now united Germany.

Roger Milla – Cameroon 1982, 1990, 1994

No African player has made such an impact on the World Cup. Both Milla and Cameroon impressed in Spain ‘82 – their debut – when they were unlucky not to progress into the second round. Eight years later, his country proved to be the surprise packages of Italia ‘90 before crashing out to a rather fortunate England.

Aged 38, Milla played with the enthusiasm and pace of a player half his age. It was over 13 years since he had been crowned African Football of the Year and he was now confined to a role as super sub – he made all of his appearances in Italy after coming off the bench. Two goals in the group stages against Romania were celebrated with the now famous corner-flag jig. Milla then netted twice in a comical second round match against Colombia to send Cameroon through to meet England.

Milla returned for USA ‘94 – the old stager in a youthful and rash Cameroon side. They finished rock bottom of Group B but not before Milla, at 42, had netted his fifth World Cup Finals goal against Russia.

PART ONE – PART TWO – PART THREE – PART FOUR