Watching the 2018 World Cup in Russia has everyone jazzed up. Even those who aren’t normally football fans have their eyes glued to television screens or are getting live updates. And considering that Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo both exited the World Cup on the same day, we decided to look at the top players never to have won the biggest international prize.
How else would we start this list? Lionel Messi is considered by many to be the greatest player of the the 21st century. Although the Argentinian has failed to score in a total of 756 minutes of knockout football at the World Cup. From the bitter defeat in the 2014 final in to Argentina’s exits in 2006, 2010 and 2018, we have to ask ourselves if he’ll be making the greatest list in years to come.
If we’re talking about the greatest, naturally we have to mention Portugal’s hero, Cristiano Ronaldo. Time and time again, Ronaldo has saved Portugal but that skill just wasn’t enough at the 2018 World Cup. Following the Euro 2016 win, it seemed like Portugal’s win was in the bag but after their loss to Uruguay in Russia, that makes it four World Cups without a win. When Qatar 2022 rolls around, Ronaldo will be 37. Will that too late for the star?
Undoubtedly Oliver Kahn is known as one of Germany’s greatest goalkeepers. His 86 caps during an 11-year stint can’t be ignored. Although we have to mention the 2002 final, where his unfortunate mistake led Ronaldo to grab one of two goals during a 2-0 Brazil win in Yokohama.
Next up is the Italian legend Paolo Maldini. The now 50 year old has won Serie A seven times and the Champions League a whopping five times. His international trophy cabinet, though, remains empty. During the 2002 World Cup, Italy were beyond embarrassed in South Korea, where they exited in the group stage. Moreover Maldini was in the squad when Italy lost on penalties to Brazil in 1994.
Widely regarded as one of the greatest players in football history, Johan Cruyff has sadly never won a World Cup. While he won player of the tournament in 1974, his Netherlands side went on to lose 2-1 against the hosts West Germany during the final. Cruyff wasn’t just an extraordinary player, he influenced the world of football as a manager many times. His style of play and football philosophy are still acknowledged to this day.
True, Michel Platini captained France’s impressive win at the European Championship in 1984, but when it comes to the World Cup, he has nothing to show. In 1978 France didn’t make it out of the group stage, before they lost in the semi-finals against West Germany in 1982 and in 1986.
Many think of Eusebio as one of the greatest footballers of all time and they’re not wrong. The Black Panther scored 733 goals, while 41 goals were for Portugal. Sure he also won the Golden Boot in 1966 but Portugal unfortunately exited against England in the last four. Eusebio was part of the qualification for 1962 and 1970, but Portugal didn’t reach the finals again until 1986.
You’re looking at Hungary’s most famous footballer, Ferenc Puskas. The prolific forward led Hungary to the final during the 1954 World Cup and he earned the title of the tournament’s best player. It just wasn’t enough as the team lost to West Germany. At the 1962 World Cup, Puskas played for Spain, but they lost out during the group stage in Chile.
English footballer Wayne Rooney was a member of England’s golden generation in 2006. Remember when he was infamously sent off during the quarter-final against Portugal? Sven-Goran Eriksson’s didn’t live up to the hype that year though. During the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, fans were frustrated as the Three Lions were eliminated in the last 16. Rooney’s last appearance for England was in 2014 while in Brazil, his side didn’t make it past the first six days. Maybe there’s hope for England in Russia in 2018?
In Real Madrid history, Raul goes down as one the greatest players for the club. Then again he is also considered to be one of Spain’s greatest players of all time. Even if he appeared in three World Cup appearances in 1998, 2002 and 2006, with Spain not moving past the last eight.
We couldn’t leave out one of the best players of his generation, Zlatan Ibrahimovic. The Swedish striker is probably the most accomplished player to join MLS, the Galaxy striker hasn’t had the same success with the Swedish national team tough. Twice, Sweden qualified for the World Cup with Ibrahimovic, in 2002 and 2006, but they were eliminated in the Round 16 both times and Ibrahimovic didn’t manage to snag a goal.
Sir Stanley Matthews
English footballer Sir Stanley Matthews was the only player to be knighted before he retired. Until he was 50, Matthews was in England’s first division. Moreover he was 70(!) when he played his last ever competitive game. Matthews played for the England squad in 1950 and 1954 and England did reach the quarterfinals in 1954 but we know the rest of that story.
That’s right, Mexico’s most accomplished player Hugo Sanchez makes the list. Sanchez averaged a goal every two games for Mexico and won five Spanish scoring titles. Unfortunately at the 1982 World Cup, Mexico did not qualify and they were also banned in 1990 when Sanchez was at his prime. Although he did play in the World Cup three times, where he lead his team to the quarterfinals in 1986.
The Manchester United legend also makes the list, but you probably saw that coming. David Beckham played 115 games for England, where he was also captain. While he played in three World Cups, England lost out in round 16 the first time and during the quarterfinals in their next two attempts.
How could we not include the “Bull of the Bosphorus”? The now 46 year old spent a majority of his career with Galatasaray where he won 14 major titles and was a three-time Gol Kralı (Goal King, a title and award annually given to the top goalscorer of the Süper Lig). Şükür represented Turkey 112 times, where be scored 51 goals, making him Turkey’s top goalscorer. Moreover he’s considered one of the modern era’s most prolific strikers as Şükür has bagged 383 goals, including the fastest EVER in a World Cup, back in 2002.
Head over to Brazil to find the legend, Zico. the attacking midfielder participated in the 1978, 1982, 1986 World Cups but his best finish? Third place in the 1978 World Cup. The 1982 Brazil team had a list of greats on the pitch, such as Zico, Sócrates, Falcão, Eder, and more. They were tournament favorites that year, but were crushed by Italy in the second round in what many say is considered one of the worst losses in Brazil’s footballing history.
Northern Ireland’s pride and joy, George Best, is up next. The Manchester United legend is nicknamed “Fifth Beatle” as he’s best known as a a transcendent sports star. With United, he lead the team to Champions League history in 1968 and earned Ballon d’Or at just 22. However he never represented Northern Ireland in the European Championships or World Cup.
In 2000, Steven Gerrard made his debut for England and it wasn’t until 2014 that he retired. He represented England 114 times and scored 21 times for his country. The now 38 year old is widely regarded as one of the greatest midfielders of his generation. And considering his time with Liverpool, that’s a fair assessment.
1978, 1982, 1986 – those are the World Cups that Karl-Heinz Rummenigge played in. Although his best World Cup finishes are as runner-ups in 1982 and 1986. Although he had a hand in Germany’s win in the 1980 European Championship. The back-to-back Ballon d’Or award winner (1980-81) led Bayern Munich to the Champions League twice.
From 1954 to 1967, Lev Yashin made 78 appearances for the USSR. In fact, he is known as THE best goalkeeper in football history. ‘The Black Spider’ had impressive reflexes and was also one of the first keepers to be play as a defensive ‘sweeper’. In modern times, that tactic is pretty ever-present and that’s thanks to Yashin. Unfortunately he never went past the semifinals of the World Cup.
While he might be the brunt of many jokes thanks to his over-exaggeration of injury on the pitch at the 2018 World Cup, Neymar is rightfully on our list. The Brazilian has bagged 57 goals in 89 matches for his country since his debut at 18. He has participated in the 2014 and 2018 World Cup so far.
This classic English center forward was key in the 1994 and 1998 World Cups even if England didn’t qualify and were knocked out round 16. Thanks to his time with Blackburn Rovers and Newcastle United, Shearer is the Premier League’ highest goalscorer.
Sure, it’s controversial to include Luis Suárez on this list but seeing as how he’s won 16 trophies in his career, he’s earned the right. “The Biter” just played in his third World Cup – Uruguay were knocked out in the quarter finals by France in Russia 2018.
“Black Panther” played for one of the best international teams in history: the 50’s and 60’s Hungarian team of Magical Magyars. Of his 86 appearances, Grosics is credited with inventing the keeper-sweeper. The talented shot-stopper was the best keep at the 1954 World Cup even if Hungary lost to West Germany in the final.
Denmark is home for Peter Schmeichel and he has represented his country 129 times from 1987 to 2001. Unfortunately for this talented keeper, Denmark didn’t qualify for the 1990 and 1994 World Cups, but they did reach the quarterfinals in 1998. He’s best known for his career with Manchester United, the 6’3” keeper was a mighty opponent in one-on-one situations.
Granted Ray Clemence was overshadowed quite often by English goalkeeper, Peter Shilton but he still made history, especially during his time at Liverpool. While he never earned World Cup glory, he did set a record for Liverpool – the team went unbeaten in 42 games during the 1978-79 season.
Edwin van der Sar
The Netherlands were lucky to have Edwin van der Sar from 1995 to 2008. Although while he played internationally, the Dutch didn’t make it past the semifinals and didn’t even qualify for the 2002 World Cup. However he is the only keep the UEFA Champions League with two clubs, Ajax (1995) and Manchester United (2008). During the 2008-09 season, van der Sar set a world record in league football. What did he do? This legend went 1,311 minutes without conceding a goal.
As far as most appearances go for England, Peter Shilton holds the record. Moreover, the just one of few to have played over 1,000 competitive matches and is the only one to play over 100 games for five clubs. Shilton was there during the 1986 World Cup quarterfinal game against Argentina – if you recall, that’s when Diego Maradona made history with his ‘Hand of God’ goal.
Next up is Englishman Phil Neal who made 50 appearances for the Three Lions from 1976 to 1983. During the 1982 and 1986 World Cup, England didn’t make it past the quarterfinals. We have to point out that he is England’s most decorated player, ever. For 12 seasons, he played for Liverpool and only missed one game!
Accomplished and decorated. Those are two words that describe Ronald Koeman as a defender, whether for his country or club. He made 78 appearances for the Netherlands and he provided a different dimension to the team when it came to attacking play. He scored 14 goals for his country but never walked away with a World Cup win.
Italian Giacinto Facchetti is credited with being one of the first attacking fullbacks, something most of us take for granted in the modern era. During his international run, Italy didn’t qualify for the 1966 World Cup, but finished as runners-up in the 1970 final. He was on the team during Inter Milan’s successful run in the 60’s and 70’s.
From 1989 to 2002, Fernando Hierro played in four World Cups however the team didn’t make it out of the knockout rounds 1990, 1994 and 2002. Nor did they even get to the knockout stage in 1998. Hierro is known as one of the highest-scoring defenders of all time. Futhermore, he is the fourth highest scorer for Spain’s national team, only Raul, David Villa, and Fernando Torres have better records.
You’re looking at Chile’s greatest footballer of all time. And seeing as how he’s a defender, that’s extraordinary. Elias Figueroa is known for his “calm, intelligent defending, and ability to quickly initiate counterattacks for his attacking players.” In his 47 international appearances, Chile qualified for the 1966, 1974, and 1982 World Cups, but didn’t make it out of the group stages.
During the 1982 and 1986 World Cups, Scotland didn’t make it out of the first round. Actually, they never progressed past the first round. Alan Hansen made 26 appearances for Scotland from 1979 to 1987. Hansen is known as Phil Neal’s defensive partner during Liverpool’s domination in the 80’s.
At just 17, Ryan Giggs made his first international appearance – in fact, at the time, he was the youngest player to appear for the Welsh team. From 1991 to 2007, the Manchester United star made 64 appearances for Wales. When it comes to British footballers, Giggs is the most decorated player in history. He’s currently the manager of the Welsh national team!
Surely you’re aware that Paul Scholes is from England’s underachieving ‘Golden Generation’? Even though England had legendary players like David Beckham, Michael Owen, Steven Gerrard, Frank Lampard, John Terry, and so on, they lost to Argentina on penalties in round 16 at the 1998 World Cup, to Brazil (who were the champions that year) in the 2002 quarter final, and to Portugal in the 2006 quarterfinal (thanks to penalties again). Scholes is also known for his career at Manchester United.
While Scotland had a lot of talented players, they just couldn’t make it on the international stage. The Scots lost in the first round of the 1974, 1978, 1982, and 1986 World Cups. Kenny Dalglish made 102 appearances and snagged 30 goals for Scotland. His name is synonymous with Celtic and Liverpool. FourFourTwo magazine named him the “best post-war British striker”.
In 1997, Frank Lampard made his debut for the under-21 English team but he joined the squad as a regular in 2004 after Paul Scholes retired. After his own retirement in 2014, Lampard racked up 106 caps and 29 goals. The brilliant midfielder player for West Ham United, Swansea City, Chelsea, Manchester City, and New York City.
Portugal’s leading man had his hopes dashed as the Second World War kicked off. Therefore Fernando Peyroteo never played in a World Cup tournament. 10+ years with Sporting Lisbon earned him 543 goals in just 334 games – impressive? We’d say so! Peyroteo still has a goal-to-game ratio that is untouched. Yup, that’s also impressive.
Let’s head to the Netherlands real quick. Dennis Bergkamp made 79 appearances from 1990 to 2000, earning 37 goals along the way. The Dutch lost in the quarterfinals at the 1994 World Cup and also in the semifinals in 1998. Originally he played a a wide midfielder, he was converted to the “trequartista” role by Arsene Wenger which helped to control Arsenal’s attacking play from the crucial position.
Robin van Persie
We have to start with this wild fact: Van Persie became the only player since 1966 to score with score with his left foot, right foot, and head, plus he scored from a free kick and a penalty kick. The Dutchman is a force to be reckoned with, even if he hasn’t earned a win at the World Cup. When it comes to the Netherlands, van Persie is the country’s top goalscorer with 50.
From one Dutch star to another. The now 34 year old participated in the 2006, 2010 and 2014 FIFA World Cups. Arjen Robben currently plays for Bayern Munich and in 2014, The Guardian named him as the fourth-best footballer in the world.
Let’s talk about Vincent Kompany for a minute. To begin, Kompany impressively made his international debut at only 17 for Belgium in 2004 and is one of the youngest players ever to do so. Who could forget Belgium’s qualifying game in 2013 when they beat Serbia 2–1 World Cup? Not many! Especially after Kompany collided with goalkeeper Vladimir Stojković and suffered a concussion, broken nose and cracked eye-socket. Since 2008, he’s been playing for Manchester City.
You’re looking at the second best Russian goalkeeper, after Lev Yashin. Dasayev is known as the greatest keeper of the 80’s. “The Iron Curtain” made it incredibly difficult to net in a goal. Even though the USSR won bronze at the 1980 Olympics and silver in the 1988 Euro Championships, they didn’t get ever get to the World Cup qarterfinals.
Between 2006 and 2014, Franck Ribery represented France an impressive 81 times. This includes two FIFA World Cups (2006, 2010) and two UEFA European Championships (2008, 2012). In 2006, against Mexico, he made his debut. Ever since he joined Bayern Munichin 2007, he has been called one of the best French players of his generation.
José Luis Chilavert
Any Paraguay fan remembers that José Luis Chilavert was heroic when it came to his skill on the pitch. Chilavert is well known as one of highest scoring goalkeepers of all time. Note that he has eight goals to his name, which is a record for goalkeepers in international matches.
From 1976 to 1987, Jean-Marie Pfaff made 64 appearances for Belgium and was at the center of their 80’s success. Pfaff is also just one of three Belgian players to be selected by Pelé in his personal list of 100 greatest living footballers. Now that’s high praise.
The six time Welsh Footballer of the Year makes the list. He made his international 2006, making him (at that time) the youngest player to represent Wales. Since, he has racked up 70 caps and 29 goals, which also makes him Wales’ highest scorer of all time. Bale played for Tottenham Hotspur for six years before moving to Real Madrid.
Here’s something interesting for you to know, José Santamaria represented Uruguay 20 times from Uruguay 1952 to 1957 and Spain 16 times from 1958 to 1962. Known as one the best defenders around, he was crucial in Real Madrid’s dominance at the European Cup. After he joined Real Madrid in 1957, he went on to win four European cups and five league championships. Even though Santamaria was so impressive for his club, he just couldn’t do the same for his country.