This summer in Russia will likely be the last opportunity for two of the greatest of all time, the pair that have defined a generation, to win the World Cup. Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi will lead out Portugal and Argentina respectively in one final quest for glory (you’d assume).
Ronaldo has a European title whilst Messi is yet to taste real success with La Seleccion. In two months’ time, we’ll know if they’ve joined the established list of players to never lift the holy grail of football.
Come the end of this summer, at least one of these two superstars will likely have played their final World Cup without picking up the trophy. The fact of the matter is that they aren’t the only greats to go down without lifting the greatest reward that football has to offer. Here are ten of the best players to never win the World Cup…
A forgotten man of an era with an abundance of legends, sadly that evaded Figo as he captained his nation in two World Cups.
Portugal were always nearly men, even when Euro 2004 was in their backyard. The 2002 World Cup was a disaster, suffering group elimination and 2006 they were outclassed by Zinedine Zidane and feeling the effects of suspensions from the self-proclaimed ‘Battle of Nuremberg’ against Holland.
The eccentric, attacking poster-boy of Manchester United in the 60’s and 70’s. He was an enigma, but when Franz Beckenbauer has labelled you as ‘one of the best of all time’, that carries weight.
Ridiculously skilful, scorer of the beautiful goals, but his personal demons prevented an appearance on the grand stage. At 36, Best missed out on selection for the 1982 World Cup.
You could go through many generations of England players who haven’t won the World Cup and there are a number of exceptional names. Ashley Cole is one of those that perhaps doesn’t get as much recognition as the attacking players, consistently one of the world’s best in his position for club and country.
Suffering the heart-ache of a Ronaldinho worldie in 2002 and penalty shoot-out pain in 2006, as well as Lampard’s equaliser that never was in 2010. It was never meant to be for this member of England’s ‘Golden Generation’.
A revolutionary character in the game of football, he played in the way he wanted the game to be played. The majestic Cruyff guided Netherlands to the World Cup final in 1974.
If anything summed up a Cruyff team, it was the start of the final. Johan Neeskens converted a penalty before West Germany touched the ball, following 15 passes around the Oranje side. Unfortunately, they were defeated 2-1, but he’s left something of a lasting legacy on worldwide football.
There have been many great African footballers like George Weah and Abedi Pele who haven’t won the World Cup, but Drogba is a special spokesman for African football.
A man who helped stop a civil war in his beloved Ivory Coast in qualifying for the 2006 tournament, he was integral as they reached their first World Cup. He’s proven he’s one for the big stage with Chelsea, it’s a shame it never flourished on a world platform for Drogba.
A serial champion with AC Milan, it was a sad story for Paolo on duty with the Azzurri. In the 1994 World Cup, Maldini stepped up to excel in the absence of captain Franco Baresi, marshalling the backline to the final and a clean sheet too.
However, a horror moment for Roberto Baggio in the shoot-out left Maldini empty handed. 2002 brought controversy and a golden goal upset to hosts South Korea. This was his curtain call, four years prior to Fabio Grosso clinching the World Cup in 2006, no happy ending here.
The Soviet Union stopper was referred to as the ‘Black Spider’ for his athleticism, positioning and bravery as he reinvented the art of a goalkeeper. At the first televised World Cup in 1958, Yashin dressed all in black, hence the suitable nickname.
Playing in three World Cups and a Ballon D’Or winner in 1963, that clarifies the stature he had as the first world class goalkeeper. He led Union to their best finish in 1966, fourth place.
If Marmite was a footballer it’d be Zlatan Ibrahimovic. Infectious, arrogant personality which some may find annoying, others find vital in a game where personalities can be hidden away.
He has had a star-studded career with trophies wherever he’s been and extraordinary goals, but it wasn’t the same for Sweden. Two World Cup appearances, without scoring in either, the World Cup wasn’t for Zlatan.
Alfredo Di Stefano
The curious case of Alfredo Di Stefano. A legend at Real Madrid, but internationally represented three nations, yet failed to make a World Cup.
The first World Cup he was eligible for, Argentina refused to participate in 1950. Time passed him by and Di Stefano switched allegiance to Spain. The five time European Cup winner, scoring in all five finals, then had the pain of missing the 1962 World Cup through injury.
A figure-head for British football, being a part of the most dominant era in English football with Manchester United. The Welshman never got the chance to strut his stuff on the world’s stage.
Though Wales are reaping the rewards of the great work of the late Gary Speed and the class of Gareth Bale these days, it was a different story for Giggs. His commitments to United interfered with his international career, but he still earned 64 caps and was put in the same breath as Kaka and Ronaldinho by Brazil coach Dunga.