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9 Best Soccer Players to Never Win the World Cup

by: Esteban On  Monday, July 14, 2014

best soccer players to never win the world cup

Well, Argentina lost to Germany in extra time of the finals of the 2014 FIFA World Cup. And that means Lionel Messi, the man most observers regard as the greatest soccer player on the planet today—winner of six Spanish Liga trophies, three Champions League trophies, and four consecutive World Player of the Year awards—remains without a World Cup championship on his résumé.

Does this tarnish said résumé? Um, no. One guy can’t win a World Cup single-handedly. But it’s always nice when the “greatest player ever” type narratives end with a guy winning the world’s most prestigious trophy in his sport.

Of course, Messi is hardly the only all-time great to never win a World Cup championship. And today, we’re going to try to cheer him up—because yes, I’m sure he’s reading this—by showing Messi the great company he keeps in the World Cup-less legends of soccer club.

Take a look…


Honorable Mentions


The World Cup is only played every four years, which means individual players don’t get many opportunities to compete in the tournament in their prime. Moreover, though the World Cup has now been played 20 times, only eight countries have won. And this means there are a lot of great soccer players who have never won.

Unfortunately, not all of them could make the cut for the top nine. However, there are some who do merit an honorable mention.

Here they are:

George Best (Northern Ireland) – 1968 Ballon d’Or
George Weah (Liberia) – 1995 FIFA WPotY; 1995 Ballon d’Or
Kevin Keegan (England) – 1978, 1979 Ballon d’Or
Karl-Heinz Dummenigge (German) – 1980, 1981 Ballon d’Or
Ruud Gullit (Netherlands) – 1987 Ballon d’Or; 1987, 1989 WSM PotY
Lev Yashin (Soviet Union) – 1963 Ballon d’Or
Hugo Sanchez (Mexico) – 4x Liga Scoring Champion
David Beckham (England) – 2nd place Ballon d’Or 1999

That’s a lot of talent right there. But now let’s see who actually made the list…


9. Marco van Basten (Netherlands)

marco van basten netherlands - best soccer football players never to win the world cup

Legendary Dutch striker Marco Van Basten scored 218 goals in 280 total club appearances. He won the prestigious Ballon d’Or (i.e., the world soccer MVP award) three times, and in 1999 FIFA put him at No. 12 on their list of the greatest soccer players of the 20th century.

Unfortunately, the Netherlands didn’t qualify of the World Cup in 1986, and in 1990 they lost to eventual champions West Germany in the Round of 16.  Then Van Basten was injured for the 1994 World Cup, and that was it. Legendary career, no World Cup championship.


8. Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal)

cristiano ronaldo portugal 2014 world cup - best soccer football players never to win the world cup

I have a feeling Cristiano Ronaldo will rank higher on this list by the end of his career—both because he’ll be regarded as among the 10 greatest players of all time, and because Portugal almost certainly won’t win while he is around.

I could be wrong about the latter, of course, and for Ronaldo’s sake I hope I am. But right now, without Ronaldo, Portugal would be a below-average national team. And there doesn’t seem to be much hope on the horizon. They were probably good enough to win in 2006, but that was it. Window closed.



7. Lionel Messi (Argentina)

lionel messi 2014 world cup - best soccer football players never to win the world cup

Almost everything I just said about Ronaldo more or less applies to Messi. The only differences? Messi will be regarding amongst the top five players of all time by the end of his career, and Argentina isn’t quite as hopeless as Portugal because they’re a much bigger country with a larger talent pool from which to draw.

Still, Messi’s chances of winning a World Cup aren’t great. Germany is young, and the Bundesliga keeps churning out incredible talent. Unless Argentina produces a big crop of young superstars in the next few years, they’re still not going to be as good as Germany in 2018, when Messi is 31 years old.


6. Zico (Brazil)

zico brazil - best soccer football players never to win the world cup

Zico never won a Ballon d’Or because was not European, he spent the prime of his career playing in Brazil, and until 1995 only Europeans playing on European clubs were eligible. However, that doesn’t mean Zico wasn’t considered one of the world’s greats. He most definitely was. The attacking midfielder scored 52 goals for Brazil in 71 appearances. But it just so happens that his career lined up with the longest title drought in Brazilian soccer history—24 years between 1970 and 1994—and the 1982 squad ranking as (until this year) the biggest disappointment in Brazilian soccer history.


5. Michel Platini (France)


French attacking midfielder Michel Plantini won three consecutive Ballon d’Or awards from 1983 to 1985, and in 1999 FIFA’s panel of experts declared him the seventh-best player of the 20th century.

In club soccer he won two Serie A championhips and one Ligue 1 championship to go along with a European Cup (Champions League) win, scoring 224 goals in 432 appearances. And in international soccer, Platini helped lead the French squad to the European championship in 1984, which made them prohibitive favorites heading into the 1986 World Cup.

Unfortunately, France lost in the semifinals to tournament runners-up West Germany before beating Belgium to take third place.

Close, but no World Cup cigar.


4. Eusébio (Portugal)

eusabio portugal 1966 world cup 9 goals - best soccer football players never to win the world cup

When talking about the greatest soccer players of all time, the conversastion always begins with Pelé and Maradona. Then, in the very next tier down from those two, you’ll almost here Eusébio thrown into the mix.

The Mozambican-born Portuguese forward scored a ridiculous 749 goals in 745 appearances at club level and another 41 for the Portuguese national team. Somehow he only won the Ballon d’Or one time—in 1965—but he was the runner up two other times, leading Benfica FC to 11 Primeira Liga titles, one European Cup (Champions League) title, and three European Cup finals.

How’d he do at the World Cup? Well, unfortunately he only played in on, in 1966. However, in that one World Cup all he did was lead the tournament in goals with nine and lead Portugal to a third-place finish.


3. Alfredo Di Stéfano (Argentina/Spain)

alfredo di stefano spain argentina - best soccer football players never to win the world cup

Alfredo Stéfano played a long time ago, so if you’re not a hardcore soccer fan you might not have heard of him. Luckily, I’m hear to get you up to speed.

Born in Argentina, Stéfano played briefly for his native country before eventually playing for Spanish on the international level.On the club level Stéfano spent four years playing in Colombia, scoring 90 goals for the Millonarios, before moving on to Real Madrid…where he scored 216 goals in 282 appearances and won the Ballon d’Or in 1959 and 1960. (Good thing he got Spanish citizenship in 1956.)

In 1999 FIFA ranked Stéfano No. 4 on their list of the best soccer players of the 20th century. However, Spain only qualified for the World Cup once during his career with the national team, and that year (1962) he was injured.



2. Ferenc Puskás (Hungary)

Ferenc Puskás Hungary - best soccer football players never to win the world cup

How good was Hungarian forward Ferenc Puskás? Well let’s see. He’s No. 6 on FIFA’s players of the century list. He scored 508 goals in 521 club appearances, including 156 with Real Madrid. He scored 84 goals in 85 appearances with the Hungarian national team. He won an Olympic gold medal in 1952 and he led Hungary to the finals of the 1954 World Cup, in which he was named the tournament’s best player.

Oh, and he scored so many amazing goals that FIFA named the award for World Goal of the Year after him.

Unfortunately, despite being heavy favorites, Puskás’s Hungarian squad lost in the finals of that 1954 World Cup. It was one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history.


1. Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)

johan cruyff netherlands - best soccer football players never to win the world cup

As you might have guessed, Pelé is #1 on FIFA’s all-century team, and he definitely won the World Cup. So did #3 Franz Beckenbauer and #5 Diego Maradona. (Though, really, Maradona should be ranked higher than #5.)

Who was #2? That would be this guy—Holland’s Johan Cruyff. The attacking midfielder was the biggest star of the legendary Dutch team that revolutionized the sport with their “Total Football” philosophy. He won three Ballon d’Or awards in a four-year span (1971-74), scored 291 goals in 520 club appearances, 33 in 48 national appearances, and invented his very own soccer move—”The Cruff Turn.”

Cruyff led the Oranje to the finals of the 1974 World Cup at the age of 27, and he was named best player of the tournament even though they lost to West Germany. However, though he was only 31 years old, Cruyff retired from international soccer prior to the 1978 World Cup after an attempted kidnapping of his family.

That year, without their best player, the Netherlands finished second…again.