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Greatest players who have never won a World Cup: Football legends who missed out on the biggest trophy

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Perhaps the greatest footballing storyline that stems from the 2022 FIFA World Cup in Qatar, is how it provides a final bow for Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi.

Both are superstars of the game with legendary careers already attached to their names, but for all their bottomless records and limitless talent, the greatest trophy of all has eluded them both. Neither have ever lifted the FIFA World Cup. 

Both Argentina and Portugal are through to the quarterfinals in Qatar. Whilst Messi is playing a significantly more pivotal role than his Portuguese counterpart, both have their eyes on the possibility of a fairtytale ending to their football stories. 

However, they won’t be alone if they do fall short in Qatar. Football’s greatest prize has escaped some of the greatest ever players. 

The Sporting News has narrowed it down to 10 of the best players who have never lifted the World Cup.

MORE: Best World Cup final: Why Argentina vs Portugal would be perfect Qatar 2022 championship match 

Best players who have never won the World Cup

George Weah

Weah is the only African player to win the Ballon d’Or, lifting the famous individual trophy in 1995. He is highly regarded as one of the greatest African footballers of all time, boasting impressive numbers across stints with AC Milan, Paris Saint-Germain and Monaco. 

Weah not only never won the World Cup, he never even played in it. 

Representing Liberia from the age of 19, Weah’s only tournament action came in the African Cup of Nations. Liberia came closest to qualifying in 2002, when they missed out by one point behind Nigeria. 

  • World Cups played at: 0
  • World Cup appearances: 0
  • World Cup Goals: 0
  • Best World Cup finish: N/A

Eric Cantona

The World Cup spot is vacant in Cantona’s trophy cabinet for a very different reason to Weah. 

During Cantona’s finest years with Manchester United, France coach, Aime Jacquet refused to include him in the squad.

Cantona has since said that if he wasn’t excluded from the national team, he would have prolonged his playing career and been available for France’s home World Cup in 1998, which they won. 

  • World Cups played at: 0
  • World Cup appearances: 0
  • World Cup goals: 0
  • Best World Cup finish: N/A

Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini AC Milan

Maldini is an Italian football icon.

Known for his dominant displays of highly intelligent defending and his energy to progress up the field, the left-back has a staggering domestic record with his only club, AC Milan. 

A seven-time Italian champion and three-time UEFA Champions League winner, Maldini’s club career spanned 24 years, racking up a staggering 901 appearances in all competitions. 

For his country, Maldini has featured in four World Cups and made 23 appearances, the third-most of any player in history. 

Despite his four bites at the cherry, the legendary defender would never lift the trophy. After announcing his international retirement following Italy’s Round of 16 exit in 2002, he declined a call-up to the 2006 World Cup squad.

Italy went on to win the tournament. “I said no to the call-up in 2006 and they won. It was destiny, I guess,” Maldini told The Sun. 

  • World Cups played at: 4
  • World Cup appearances: 23
  • World Cup goals: 0
  • Best World Cup finish: 2nd at 1994 World Cup

Kevin Keegan

Perhaps more famous now for his slump over the advertising boards at Anfield or his passionate rant at Sir Alex Ferguson during his time as Newcastle United manager, Keegan was an exceptional footballer in the 1970s and 80s. 

He is the only Englishman to win multiple Ballon d’Ors, taking out the prestigious individual accolade in 1978 and 1979. Only one Englishman has lifted it since – Michael Owen in 2001. 

Keegan’s form came at a shocking time to be an England player. The Three Lions failed to qualify for the World Cup in 1974 and 1978, the prime stage of Keegan’s career. When England did qualify in 1982, Keegan was suffering from a serious back injury, and was only able to feature once.

  • World Cups played at: 1
  • World Cup appearances: 1
  • World Cup goals: 0
  • Best World Cup finish: Second group stage at 1982 World Cup

Marco van Basten

The legendary Dutch striker is one of the biggest examples of talent cut short by injury.

The Dutchman boasts remarkable goalscoring records at club level with Ajax and AC Milan, and won player of the tournament at Euro 1988 when the Netherlands lifted the trophy. 

He was less successful, however, when it came to World Cups. After failing to qualify for the World Cup in 1982 and 1986, Van Basten failed to score at the 1990 World Cup. 

He eventually announced his retirement in 1995 following two whole seasons on the sidelines. 

  • World Cups played at: 1
  • World Cup appearances: 4
  • World Cup goals: 0
  • Best World Cup finish: Round of 16 at 1990 World Cup

Lev Yashin

Widely regarded as the greatest goalkeeper of all time, Yashin is the only goalkeeper to ever win the Ballon d’Or. 

Known as ‘the black spider’ for his all-dark goalkeeping attire, he played in four World Cups for the Soviet Union. Yashin was revolutionary to the art of goalkeeping, introducing a more mobile and commanding style of play. 

He played out his entire domestic career at Dynamo Moscow from 1950 to 1970. 

  • World Cups played at: 4
  • World Cup appearances: 13
  • World Cup clean sheets: 4
  • Best World Cup finish: 4th place at 1966 World Cup in England

George Best

Out of Belfast, Northern Ireland, Best is well renowned as one of the finest footballers in history. He lifted both the European Cup and the Ballon d’Or in 1968.

His 11 years at Manchester United were followed by erratic stints at 17 different football clubs from South Africa to Hong Kong. 

His career spluttered to a sad and anti-climactic end after years of suffering at the hands of alcoholism.

Northern Ireland have only ever qualified for three World Cups, Best was unable to carry his nation to a tournament during his career.

  • World Cups played at: 0
  • World Cup appearances: 0
  • World Cup goals: 0
  • Best World Cup finish: N/A

Michel Platini

Michel Platini

Platini is arguably France’s best ever footballer. His three consecutive Ballon d’Ors in 1983, 1984 and 1985 speak for themselves. 

Scoring freely in his time with Nancy, Saint-Etienne and Juventus, Platini is one of the greatest goalscoring midfielders in history.

In 1984, Platini captained his country to win the European Championships on home soil, but fell in the semifinals of the World Cup in Mexico just two years later.

  • World Cups played at: 3
  • World Cup appearances: 14
  • World Cup goals: 5
  • Best World Cup finish: 3rd at 1986 World Cup

Alfredo Di Stefano

Alfredo Di Stéfano

Di Stefano’s brilliance can be summed up in just a few statistics.

His 308 goals for Real Madrid only scratch the surface of an unbelievable football career.

The striker won eight Spanish league titles and five consecutive UEFA Champions League titles. 

His international career was an odd one. After FIFA banned him from representing Argentina again following two appearances for Colombia, he turned to Spain in 1957. 

Such was the erraticism of his international career given Argentinian player strikes and personal bans, Di StEfano never featured in a World Cup.

  • World Cups played at: 0
  • World Cup appearances: 0
  • World Cup goals: 0
  • Best World Cup finish: N/A

Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff

As well as being one of the finest players in history, Cruyff’s impact on the modern game is enormous. 

As a player, the Dutchman won three Ballon d’Ors, three European Club Championships, and nine Dutch championships. 

As a manager, he led Barcelona to four consecutive La Liga titles as well as a Champions League crown in 1992. Cruyff’s ‘total football’ prioritised technicality over physicality, and his influence can be seen particularly in his protege, Pep Guardiola. 

A football mastermind and a remarkable man, Cruyff fell short of securing the greatest triumph of all in 1974, when the Netherlands lost to West Germany in the World Cup final.

  • World Cups played at: 1
  • World Cup Appearances: 7
  • World Cup goals: 3
  • Best World Cup finish: 2nd at 1974 World Cup


Credit: sportingnews.com

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