The World Cup’s top 100 footballers of all time (2024)

20 Bobby Moore (England)

World Cups 1962, 1966, 1970 Appearances 14 Goals 0

England’s World Cup winning captain, but ever-present in Chile in 1962 and a colossus in the two tournaments that followed. A gifted reader of the game, and an astute passer, the West Ham centre-half captained the side in 90 of his 108 caps. Jailed for four days after being accused of stealing a bracelet a few weeks before conjuring an imperious display in the 1-0 loss to Brazil in 1970. The man described by Franz Beckenbauer as “the best defender ever”, he earned his last cap in 1973 and died in 1991 at the age of 51. Dominic Fifield

19 Dino Zoff (Italy)

World Cups 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982 Appearances 17 Conceded 17

It is one of the most iconic pictures in Italian football history: Zoff playing cards on a plane with his national manager Enzo Bearzot,team-mate Franco Causio and the president of the republic, Sandro Pertini, allnonchalantly ignoring the World Cup trophy that sits on the end of their table. The goalkeeper hadcertainly done his part, his reaction save from Oscar’s header preserving a 3-2 win over Brazil in the quarter-finals. Forty years and 133 days old at the time of the 1982 final, Zoff remains the oldest player to lift the World Cup. Paolo Bandini

18 Paolo Rossi (Italy)

World Cups 1978, 1982, 1986 Appearances 14 Goals 9

The decision to call Rossi up for the 1982 World Cup was a deeply controversial one. Since returning from a two-year match-fixing ban that May, the striker had played only three matches and scored a single goal. But the manager, Enzo Bearzot, stuck with Rossi, even after he failed to find the net in Italy’s first four games. A wise decision: Rossi hit six in the final three, finishing as the tournament’s top scorer, as well as a World Cup winner. PB

17 Just Fontaine (France)

World Cups 1958 Appearances 6 Goals 13

The scorer of an incredible 13 goals at Sweden 1958 in a pair of boots borrowed from a team-mate after his own had fallen apart, Fontaine holds one of the longest-standing records in sport.It is a feat the French striker later said seems “like a spectacular gag”. Despite his heroics, France fell short, going out 5-2 to Brazil in the semi-final having played most of the second half with 10 men after losing Robert Jonquet through injury with the score at 1-1. The recurrence of a severe leg injury at the age of 27 meant Justo never graced football’s greatest stage again. Barry Glendenning

16 Romário (Brazil)

World Cups 1990, 1994 Appearances 8 Goals 5

A wayward but prodigious rogue who scored 55 times in 70 appearances, a lack of fitness restricted his involvement at Italia 90 to one cameo, but four years later he was the undisputed star of USA 94. Playing alongside Bebeto, he scored five as Brazil won their fourth title, earning himself the Golden Ball. His World Cup career ended in disappointment, with injury and indiscipline ruining his chances of competing in France 98 and South Korea and Japan four years later. BG

15 Xavi (Spain)

World Cups 2002, 2006, 2010 Appearances 14 Goals 0

The greatest player in the most successful international team of all time, Xavi is the man who makes Spain tick and no matter how many tiki-taka specialists are produced in his mould, the likelihood is that the Catalan will always be the best midfielder of his type. He will go down in history as the key player in a side that has dominated since their win at Euro 2008 ended years of under-achievement, dictating play and combining beautifully with his partner-in-possession, Andrés Iniesta. He was integral as Spain won the World Cup for the first time in 2010, and at the age of 34, he is likely to retire from international football after Brazil – so enjoy him while you can. Jacob Steinberg

14 Bobby Charlton (England)

World Cups 1962, 1966, 1970 Appearances 14 Goals 4

An attacking midfielder, who started on the wing and had a crunching shot, Charlton was a survivor of the Munich air disaster and, over a 27-year career with Manchester United, won three league titles, the FA Cup and the European Cup at Wembley in 1968. He was prolific for the national side, scoring against Argentina at the 1962 finals and, as an ever-present in 1966 as England hosted the tournament, scored against Mexico in the group stage and twice against Portugal in the semi-finals. He went on to play inthe tournament in 1970 and retired, at 32, after the quarter-final loss to West Germany with 106 caps – a record at the time – and 49 goals, a tally no one has managed to eclipse. DF

13 Jairzinho (Brazil)

World Cups 1966, 1970, 1974 Appearances 16 Goals 9

Just like the force of nature he was named after, Jairzinho was unstoppable in his prime. He finished the 1970 World Cup with the title, the Golden Boot and the still unmatched record of scoring in all seven tournament matches. His blistering pace tormented the opposition and he was instrumental in Brazil’s success (thanks to an ambitious fitness regime, the Seleção swept aside their opponents in the second half of their matches). Decades later, Jairzinho also showed an eye for talent-spotting by taking a certain Ronaldo under his wing at Rio minnows São Cristóvão. Fernando Duarte

12 Paolo Maldini (Italy)

World Cups 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002 Appearances 23 Goals 0

A World Cup winners’ medal is just about the only item missing from Maldini’s collection. Milan’s effortlessly elegant defender lifted the European Cup five times and the scudetto seven during his remarkable 25-year career, but with Italy he suffered only heartache. His first three trips to the World Cup ended in penalty shoot-out defeats. The fourth concluded with a highly contentious loss to South Korea in sudden-death extra-time. Maldini retired from internationals after that, missing out on the 2006 success. But he left having played more World Cup minutes than any other player (2,217). PB

11 Eusébio (Portugal)

World Cup 1966 Appearances 6 Goals 9

A powerful striker of the ball with the acceleration of a sports car and exceptional dribbling skills, Eusébio was born in Mozambique but made global headlines by scoring nine goals for his adopted country in England 1966. Having netted twice in three matches, he scored four goals as Portugal came from 3-0 down to beat North Koreaat Goodison Park before going out to England in a semi-final left on a knife-edge courtesy of a late penalty from “the Black Pearl”. “We may have lost the semi-final but Portuguese football was a big winner,” said Eusébio, after scoring against Russia to help secure bronze. BG

10 Michel Platini (France)

World Cups 1978, 1982, 1986 Appearances 14 Goals 5

Platini made his World Cup debut in 1978 but was marked out of the game in a vital group match against Italy, the Italian manager Enzo Bearzot having been alerted to Platini’s brilliance in a friendly against France a few months previously. By 1982, though, he was captain and the central figure in the Carre Magique – the Magic Square – of four exceptional midfielders who inspired France to the semi-final and their controversial exit to West Germany. Four years later, despite being restricted by an ankle injury, he scored the equaliser in the 1-1 draw against Brazil in the quarter-final. Although his kick was saved, France put Brazil out on penalties before losing – again – to West Germany in the semi-final. Platini is also the only player to have scored twice on his birthday in the World Cup – against Kuwait (for whom he later played one international) in 1982 and against Brazil in 1986. Jonathan Wilson

9 Garrincha (Brazil)

World Cups 1958, 1962, 1966 Appearances 12 Goals 5

The Bow-legged Angel. The Joy of the People. Both nicknames explain how much the population of Brazil revered Garrincha and some of them believe he was better than Pelé. He was the embodiment of Brazilian cheekiness, a rebel who would not miss an opportunity to make his markers look like fools. Still, Garrincha could be direct: his three-minute blitz against the Soviet Union was bedazzling. A winner of two World Cups, he inspired the team at Chile 1962, when they had been shell-shocked by Pelé’s tournament-ending injury. Four years later, struggling with knees that were falling apart, he was a pale resemblance of that wondrous player. Alcoholism followed and Garrincha died in 1983. FD

8 Gerd Müller (West Germany)

World Cups 1970, 1974 Appearances 13 Goals 14

The national manager Helmut Schön once described Müller as a “man of the little goals”. “Der Bomber”, blessed with thighs the size of boulders, scored from all angles and with all parts of his body (including his back-side) but mostly from close range. His winning goal in the World Cup final against Holland in 1974 (2-1) summed up his unique talent: after a first touch that was one part mis-control, one part clever dummy, he dragged the ball through the legs of the defender to become then the most prolific striker in the history of the competition. His 14 World Cup goals have been equalled by Miroslav Klose and only bettered by Ronaldo’s 15. Raphael Honigstein

7 Lothar Matthäus (West Germany/Germany)

World Cups 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994, 1998 Appearances 25 Goals 6

Germany’s most-capped player (150 international games) was a bit-part player in the inglorious tournament in Spain. He spent the 1986 World Cup final man-marking Diego Maradona out of the game (“he was the best adversary I have ever had,” the Argentinian said), then captained the side four years later when they beat the same opponents to win the 1990 World Cup. He refused to take the decisive penalty in the final because a stud had become loose on his new boots but that didn’t seriously impact on his reputation as the best box-to-box midfielder of his generation. MatthäusHe traded on his strength and excellent shooting technique with either foot. Later outings as a sweeper were less successful. RH

6 Johan Cruyff (Holland)

World Cup 1974 Appearances 7 Goals 3

In the great Holland side of 1974, Cruyff was the central intelligence. It was his habit of dropping back from a centre-forward position that initiated the swirl of movement that so bewitched the world, he who was always there at the heart of the clockwork orange. To watch the first minute of the 1974 final is to see a master conductor at work as Cruyff points and shouts and directs a move that ends with him being fouled to earn the Dutch a penalty before West Germany had even touched the ball. Arrogant and awkward – so much so that he insisted on wearing only two stripes on his shirt rather than Adidas’s trademark three because he had a deal with Puma – he was the footballer as artist, a cultural icon as much as a sportsman. His turn against Sweden in that tournament, dragging the ball behind his standing leg, remains one of the indelible World Cup moments. JW

5 Zinedine Zidane (France)

World Cups 1998, 2002, 2006 Appearances 12 Goals 5

A protagonist of two finals, finishing one a national hero and the other in rather a disgrace, one of the best European players of all time, Zidane’s first World Cup was a personal triumph in which he scored two goals against Brazil in the final, prompting the giant projection of his image on the Arc de Triomphe. Injury precluded him from contributing much to the defending champions’ cause as they went out with a whimper four years later in Japan and South Korea. Zidane was cajoled out of international retirement before Germany 2006 and went on to be awarded the Golden Ball before the final, which France lost on penalties. Zidane was again a central figure, scoring a first-half penalty before being sensationally sent off in extra time for butting Italy’s Marco Materazzi in the chest. BG

4 Ronaldo (Brazil)

World Cups 1994, 1998, 2002, 2006 Appearances 19 Goals 15

There is plenty to choose from to justify Ronaldo’s presence here: apart from being the most prolific scorer in the history of the World Cup, Ronaldo was presumed lost from the game after his already troubled right knee imploded at the Stadio Olimpico in 2000. Two years later, however, O Fenômeno not only scored eight goals, the biggest tally in a World Cup since 1970, to help Brazil secure their fifth world title in Japan and South Korea, he also exorcised the demons from his mystery-shrouded breakdown hours before the 1998 World Cup final. He was not the best header of the ball but the rest of his game was simply world-class. A joy to watch when at his best. FD

3 Franz Beckenbauer (West Germany)

World Cups 1966, 1970, 1974 Appearances 18 Goals 5

The exact origins of his nickname are disputed - some say his Bayern Munich and Germany team-mate Sepp Maier had noted his similarity with a bust of Austrian Emperor Kaiser I in a team hotel, others that tabloid Bild coined the moniker in 1969 – but “Der Kaiser” certainly fitted his utterly majestic style. Beckenbauer bestrode the pitch as a play-making “libero”, a free man, unencumbered by the narrow demands of the man-marking system prevalent at the time. Everything Beckenbauer did looked effortless.

His specialities were long, flicked passes with the outside of his boot and one-twos with Gerd Müller. But there was plenty of steel beneath the elegant veneer: the son of a Munich postal worker from a working-class neighbourhood played through the epic 1970 semi-final with Italy (4-3 after extra-time) in Mexico with a dislocated shoulder and his arm strapped to his chest. He led West Germany to the 2-1 win over Holland in the 1974 final in his home town and cemented his legendary status by winning the trophy a second time 16 years later, as national manager. RH

2 Diego Maradona (Argentina)

World Cups 1982, 1986, 1990, 1994 Appearances 21 Goals 8

Aggressive, outrageously skilful and streetwise, Diego Armando Maradona Franco was one of the world’s great playmakers, the subject of world record transfer fees that took him to Barcelona and Napoli, and the man who inspired Argentina to claim the 1986 World Cup in Mexico. He made his debut at club level at 15, winning a first senior cap a year later only to be omitted, at 17, from his country’s home World Cup in 1978 because César Luis Menotti feared he was too young to cope with the pressure. He featured in Spain in 1982 and, having been on the end of some brutal tackles from Claudio Gentile against Italy, was sent off for a foul on Brazil’s Batista as the team exited at the second group stage.

In Mexico his devious “Hand of God” handball, palming a finish over Peter Shilton, went unnoticed though the jaw-dropping 60-yard dribble past five panicked England outfield players and clipped finish moments later sealed his reputation as a great. Fifa voted that the competition’s best ever goal. The captain scored twice in the semi-final, got an assist for Jorge Burruchaga’s decisive goal in the final and was voted Golden Ball winner for his five goals and five assists. His displays at Italia 90 were hampered by injury, but he did set up the winner against Brazil in the second round, and was voted the tournament’s third best player as Argentina succumbed in the final. Drug problems followed, with a suspension for using cocaine in March 1991, and he was sent home from the 1994 finals after testing positive for ephedrine. DF

1 Pelé (Brazil)

World Cups 1958, 1962, 1966, 1970 Appearances 14 Goals 12

Selecting anyone else at No1 would have meant a World Cup form of sacrilege. Diego Maradona may have grabbed Mexico 86 by its lapel in a way that no player has done in a World Cup, before or since, but Pelé’s deeds were spread over four tournaments and when the excellence is that pronounced it will always make a persuasive argument in his favour.

If you consider that he was 17 when he announced himself at the 1958 tournament, and 12 years later his contribution to the finest Brazil team there has ever been, there is certainly a compelling argument that nobody has ever done more.

Everyone remembers 1970, the first World Cup finals to be televised in colour, and the greatness of the team of Pelé, Jairzinho, Gérson, Carlos Alberto, Tostão and Rivelino and so many other ideal wearers of their yellow and blue.

The glories of Brazil in the black-and-white era are not so commonly replayed but Pelé’s contribution was enormous again. The teenage Pelé scored six times in his four games in 1958 and the last two, enabling Brazil to overcome Sweden in the final by a score of 5-2, completed a story so remarkable it left even his opponents in awe.

Pelé’s first remains one of the all-time World Cup goals, chesting the ball down, flicking it over a defender, then volleying in. Sigvard “Sigge” Parling, the Sweden player, would later reflect: “When Pelé scored the fifth goal, I have to be honest and say I felt like applauding.”

Pele’s contribution in 1962 was stifled by injury and the fouling on him was so brutal four years later that he vowed it would be his last tournament. The story of football should be grateful he changed his mind. As Clodoaldo, one of his colleagues in 1970, put it: “In some countries they wanted to touch him, in some they wanted to kiss him. In others they even kissed the ground he walked on.” Daniel Taylor

As an avid football enthusiast with a deep understanding of the sport's history and its iconic figures, I'm well-equipped to delve into the concepts mentioned in the provided article. The article discusses the top 20 football players in World Cup history, highlighting their achievements, contributions, and memorable moments. I will provide information related to each player mentioned in the article:

  1. Bobby Moore (England)

    • World Cups: 1962, 1966, 1970
    • Appearances: 14
    • Goals: 0
    • Notable for captaining England to victory in the 1966 World Cup and being praised by Franz Beckenbauer as "the best defender ever."
  2. Dino Zoff (Italy)

    • World Cups: 1970, 1974, 1978, 1982
    • Appearances: 17
    • Conceded: 17
    • Iconic for being the oldest player to lift the World Cup in 1982 and making a crucial save against Brazil in the 1970 quarter-finals.
  3. Paolo Rossi (Italy)

    • World Cups: 1978, 1982, 1986
    • Appearances: 14
    • Goals: 9
    • Controversially selected for the 1982 World Cup, Rossi ended up as the tournament's top scorer and helped Italy win the title.
  4. Just Fontaine (France)

    • World Cups: 1958
    • Appearances: 6
    • Goals: 13
    • Scored an impressive 13 goals in the 1958 World Cup, a record that still stands, despite France falling short in the semi-final against Brazil.
  5. Romário (Brazil)

    • World Cups: 1990, 1994
    • Appearances: 8
    • Goals: 5
    • Undisputed star of the 1994 World Cup, scoring five goals as Brazil won their fourth title, earning the Golden Ball.
  6. Xavi (Spain)

    • World Cups: 2002, 2006, 2010
    • Appearances: 14
    • Goals: 0
    • Integral part of Spain's success, especially in the 2010 World Cup, where he played a key role in their victory.
  7. Bobby Charlton (England)

    • World Cups: 1962, 1966, 1970
    • Appearances: 14
    • Goals: 4
    • Prolific for England, scoring crucial goals in multiple World Cups and retiring with 106 caps and 49 goals.
  8. Jairzinho (Brazil)

    • World Cups: 1966, 1970, 1974
    • Appearances: 16
    • Goals: 9
    • Scored in all seven matches of the 1970 World Cup, contributing to Brazil's success in the tournament.
  9. Paolo Maldini (Italy)

    • World Cups: 1990, 1994, 1998, 2002
    • Appearances: 23
    • Goals: 0
    • Despite a successful club career, Maldini experienced World Cup heartaches, including three penalty shoot-out defeats.
  10. Eusébio (Portugal)

    • World Cup: 1966
    • Appearances: 6
    • Goals: 9
    • Made headlines with nine goals in the 1966 World Cup, helping Portugal secure a third-place finish.

Stay tuned for the continuation of this breakdown, covering the top 10 players in World Cup history.

The World Cup’s top 100 footballers of all time (2024)
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