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2018 FIFA World Cup: Football greats ready for final flourish

The FIFA World Cup trophy is the ultimate prize in world football. It elevated Pele, Maradona and Zidane to demi­gods in the game. No club heroics have been able to match that high

football Updated: Jun 01, 2018 12:51 IST
Bihan Sengupta
Bihan Sengupta
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may not play another FIFA World Cup after Russia 2018.
Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi may not play another FIFA World Cup after Russia 2018.(Getty Images)

Pele had once remarked: “The World Cup is a very important way to measure the good players, and the great ones.”

Having starred in Brazil’s three World Cup triumphs in four editions, it’s no surprise why many rank him far better than Diego Maradona — an unending debate that’s bound to go on for decades to come.

Nonetheless, winning a World Cup is indeed a measure of how great an individual player is.

Greatness is about the persona and charisma of a player who is blessed with the ability to make a difference on the pitch when the going gets tough.

It was Pele and Maradona back in those days and it’s the same with Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo now.

READ | Neymar left out of main Brazil team at 2018 FIFA World Cup camp

ULTIMATE GOAL

Neither has managed to bag the silverware for their respective countries so far and given the one in Russia will be their last; they’re bound to go all out to taste success and tick the last box in their careers.

After all, neither Pele nor Maradona achieved the legendary status for their performances in club football.

Their stints with Santos, Cosmos, Napoli and Barcelona might have raised their status among the football fraternity but it was their feats at the World Cup which got them the legendary status.

Peter Shilton, the England goalkeeper on that fateful day, may cry foul for having been robbed of a possible quarter-final victory by Maradona’s ‘Hand of God’ goal but then the great Argentine silenced the critics with a stunning solo effort in that 2-1 win.

CHASING A GOLDEN ADIEU
Andres Iniesta and Sergio Ramos have done it. Messi and Ronaldo haven’t. A look at a few top stars playing possibly in their last World Cup -- all played in the Spanish league last season
Cristiano Ronaldo (33)
A World Cup is the only major silverware missing from his trophy. He’s 33 and chances are slim that he will go on to play in Qatar. Although Portugal are not favourites, they can spring surprises as they had wh h h 2016 Europ Internationa Caps 149 when they won the pean Championship.
Andres Iniesta (34)
His wizardry was pivotal to Spain’s golden run -- 2008 and 2012 Euro triumphs and 2010 World Cup win, where he scored the winning goal in the final versus the Dutch. The Barca great, tapering down, has joined Kobe. He is set for a Spain goodbye.
Lionel Messi (30)
His Argentina missed a shot at glory four years back. Messi even announced his international retirement a couple of years back after Argentina were second to Chile in Copa America. But he’s back for another tilt, looking to win his first major international trophy.
Luis Suarez (31)
Since signing for Barca, his on-field antics have gone down and his prolific goal-scoring ability makes him a top draw. He’s had a good season with Barcelona and will lead Uruguay’s charge at the World Cup, which they have not won since the success in 1950.
Sergio Ramos (32)
Part of Spain’s golden generation as they won two Euro titles and the 2010 World Cup in between, he will look to make amends for Spain’s exit in the group stages last time, with a 1-5 defeat against Netherlands.

THE TRAGIC SOULS

There are many footballers for whom the loss cuts even deeper. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge, who’s now known for his position with Bayern Munich, led West Germany to two successive World Cup finals — in 1982 and 1986 — but lost both.

Similarly, a lot was expected from Ferenc Puskas and Johan Cruyff but they both failed to help their sides cross the finish line in 1954 and 1974, respectively.

And in recent times, the French would still want to believe they could have ended victors on that night in Berlin had Zinedine Zidane not been sent off for a head butt on Marco Materazzi.

READ | 2018 FIFA World Cup: Japan coach Akira Nishino opts for experienced squad

While Zidane never donned the national jersey following that game, he would prefer to recall his happier memories from 1998.

However, not everyone’s as lucky as Zizou.

From Michael Laudrup, Cruyff, Roberto Baggio, Michel Platini, Marco van Basten and Paolo Maldini to Raul and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, the list is endless when the legends of the game have had to hang their boots without earning the ultimate accolade as a player — the World Cup.

This World Cup will show if Messi and Ronaldo will have the privilege of the ultimate high for a footballer.