One has to go back in time a little bit when choosing the three mistrzostwa swiata legends. Players of the calibre of Beckenbauer of Germany, Cruyf of Holland, Zinedine Zidane of France, Ronaldino of Brazil, and Franco Baresi of Italy stand out throughout recent World Cups and would ordinarily be regarded as true legends. The list of players who would be considered actual legends, many of whom have established the bar for what truly qualifies as a legend or not, would grow if one were to go back much further. The top three World Cup performers ever have been named as the three players listed below. There are no right or wrong answers in this subject-matter argument, but the analysis of the players selected for this article should help to support their claims to be the best to ever compete in football’s premier competition.
Pele is arguably the most well-known and popular name ever connected to the history of football. Pele made his World Cup debut against Russia in 1958 at the age of 17, making him the youngest player ever to compete in the Finals. This was the start of his World Cup romance with Brazil. He scored his first World Cup goal against Wales in the Quarterfinals of that tournament, but he went on to score twice in Brazil’s 5-2 victory against Sweden in the championship match. Brazil had won the World Cup for the first time in history.
The world was holding its breath in anticipation of Pele’s spectacular performance in the 1962 World Cup finals in Chile because the 21-year-old had already cemented his status as a footballing legend. Unfortunately for Pele, Brazil, and football fans, he suffered an injury in the second game and was unable to continue in the competition. However, it had little impact on the result because Brazil, by winning for the second time, once again shown that they were the best team in the world.
The 1966 World Cup in England saw a similar outcome for Pele, who was figuratively kicked out of the competition by savage defence. He was so severely injured after two Group games that Pele and Brazil were unable to advance from their Group and left early, much to the dismay of the enormous English fan base for him and them.
Pele had likely just one more chance to redeem himself after two dismal world championships, and he did so by competing for Brazil in the 1970 World Cup in Mexico with a team that was incredibly spectacular and is now recognised as the best football team in history. Pele was the brightest light on a squad full of bright stars during that successful season, displaying some of the most creative, technologically advanced, and exciting football ever seen. During their six-match winning streak, Pele scored four goals, but it is clear that his overall effort spurred his teammates to play some of the best football ever seen. However, Pele’s two incredible goal efforts from that year, which have been frequently imitated over the years, will be remembered more than anything else. The first was his outrageous dummy on the Uruguayan goalkeeper during the semifinals, sending the keeper the wrong way without touching the ball, and the second was his quick-thinking lob from his own half that just missed the bar with the Czech goalkeeper off his line and beaten.
Maradona, who is now Argentina’s coach, was widely regarded as the best player in the world for much of the 1980s, but his greatest achievements came in the 1986 World Cup, when his brilliance helped Argentina win.
With the ball in his hands, Maradona was always a handful. Thanks to his low centre of gravity, speed, exquisite left foot, and small but powerful build, he was able to go past top-tier defenders as if they were standing still on two memorable occasions during the 1986 World Cup.
First, he scored a goal against England in the quarterfinals that is still recognised as the best world cup goal ever. Before scoring, he gained control of the ball in his own half and dribbled lightning-fast past five English players, including goalkeeper Peter Shilton. The entire movement required just 11 touches, and Argentina’s goal practically clinched the game for them.
He demonstrated in the semifinals that the goal against England wasn’t an aberration and repeated it against Belgium, advancing his team to the final against West Germany, which they defeated 3-2.
Maradona had five goals and five assists at the 1986 World Cup, and while he will always be remembered for the highly contentious “Hand of God” goal he scored against England, his legacy as a World Cup player has now been cemented.
Robert Charlton, Sr.
Despite the fact that Sir Bobby would not be everyone’s favourite, he was undoubtedly the most significant factor in England’s winning World Cup campaign in 1966. Charlton was the man who halted the Portuguese nation in their tracks in the semifinals with two goals that will live long in the mind, despite having a rather quiet World Cup final for excellent reasons. His contribution to that game helped England advance to the championship game, and his performance in the championship game—in which he forced the unpredictable Franz Beckenbauer to leave the field—helped England win the World Cup for the first time ever.
Four years later, in the quarterfinal matchup between England and Germany in Mexico, Charlton once more neutralised the significant threat Beckenbauer posed by keeping him out of the game, allowing England to dominate and take a 2-0 lead. Germany didn’t recover until Charlton was added to the lineup. Of course, the now-free-running Beckenbauer served as inspiration. He made one goal and scored one, which helped Germany not only come back from being behind but also win the game 3-2 in overtime.
Sadly, Sir Bobby departed from international football following that game, and his like has yet to come back, but his accomplishments at the pinnacle of professional sport support his position in the top three.