FIFA World Cup performances still the benchmark for football greatness
Modern football places greater emphasis on a player’s performances in club colours yet it is hard to deny that the FIFA World Cup is the place where legends are made, with many stars achieving greatness thanks to their showings in the quadrennial tournament.Updated: Jun 03, 2018 12:14 IST
It’s not uncommon to hear football fans lament the modern game, with many feeling that an over-emphasis on club football has led to international tournaments shrinking in stature.
However, the excitement that surrounds the FIFA World Cup can never be matched by a club game because the tournament has witnessed some of the greatest performers ever write their name in history.
Arguably the first such example is Brazil legend Pele, who was an unknown 17-year old when he played his first tournament at Sweden in 1958.
He found himself on the score-sheet in both the semi-finals and the finals, where he scored a hat-trick and brace, respectively, as Brazil lifted their maiden World Cup.
He only played one game in 1962 and in 1966 Brazil failed to make it out of the group stages, thanks in no small part to Pele getting the worst of some excessive fouling from the opposition.
The 1966 campaign left a bitter taste in his mouth and he vowed never to play another World Cup thereafter. However, he was back four years later as Brazil won the tournament for the third time.
Maradona at his best
Diego Maradona is another who, like Pele, is remembered as one of the greatest of all time largely due to his World Cup performances.
His first bow in 1982 ended in disappointment but all that was forgotten four years later. The 1986 tournament saw him score five goals and notch five assists en route to Argentina’s second World Cup win.
But it was in the quarter-final vs. England that he cemented his legacy, scoring the controversial ‘Hand of God’ as well as a solo goal so beautiful it was voted ‘Goal of the Century’ in 2002.
His World Cup career ended on a sour note in 1994 with a failed drugs test, but not even that could paper over his achievements.
The Messi-Ronaldo dilemma
Easily the biggest debate in modern football is whether Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo can stake a claim to being the best of all time.
Shattering records has become a norm for both these players at club level, to the point where most don’t even feel surprised when they add to their list of achievements.
However, there are many who believe that neither can truly call themselves the greatest without winning a World Cup.
Whether or not this school of thought is correct, it highlights the importance fans give and will continue to give the FIFA World Cup.