The Top 18 World Cup Players of All Time

It’s the big one, and it kicks off in just three weeks time. The 2018 FIFA World Cup will implant heroes and villains into the global conscious as 31 nations fall by the wayside and one becomes legend. This summer will mark the 21st edition of the tournament, so there’s an abundance of choice for the top World Cup players of all time.

It’s a difficult exercise, especially so since attacking players and creators generally receive the praise. We all love the insanity of goalkeepers and appreciate the immense skill involved in the art of defense, but the following list is decidedly top-heavy, and for good reason.

Here are 18 of the top World Cup players of all time. 

The Top World Cup Players Of All Time

#18. Eusebio (Portugal)

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If we’re going to constantly compare Lionel Messi to Maradona, why don’t we do the same with Cristiano Ronaldo and Eusebio? Eusebio scored nine goals in six games at his only World Cup, leading Portugal to a third-place finish.    

Nobody expects Portugal to win it all, but we should expect more from Ronaldo than his current total of three goals in 13 appearances. 

#17. Ferenc Puskas (Hungary) 

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The greatest player on perhaps the greatest international side of all time, Puskas was the premier attacking threat of a nation that lost only once in 51 matches between 1950 and 1956. Sadly for Puskas and Hungary, that was the 1954 final. 

The “Miracle of Bern” denied him a place amongst the victors, but he did manage four goals that tournament.  

#16. Michel Platini (France)

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Although he was twice denied in the semifinals, Platini takes his place as one of the great midfielders in World Cup history. The three-time Ballon d’Or winner scored five goals in 14 appearances and inspired a young Zinedine Zidane. 

#15. Miroslav Klose (Germany)

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If you add up the total distance of all 16 of his World Cup goals, it’d probably reach to just about the top of the box, but you can’t argue against 16 WORLD CUP GOALS. That is, after all, the record. 

What’s more, he’s one of only three players to have scored in four different tournaments and the only player to have scored at least four goals in three different tournaments. 

#14. Paolo Rossi (Italy)

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Rossi scored three goals and added four assists when Italy finished fourth in ’78, and then the Juventus legend earned Italy the Cup in ’82 after scoring six goals in the final three matches: a hat-trick against Brazil, a brace against Poland in the semis and one in the final against West Germany. 

#13. Just Fontaine (France)

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Fontaine’s is a record that’ll never be broken: in one World Cup, totaling six matches, the Frenchman scored 13 goals. And although France were defeated in the semifinals, the striker also holds the record for most consecutive matches with a goal — six. 

#12. Bobby Charlton (England)

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At the age of 28, the Manchester United attacker led England to glory on home soil at the 1966 World Cup. Charlton scored against Mexico in the group stage and added a brace to down Eusebio’s Portugal in the semifinals. 

He was named to the midfield of the ’66 All-Star team and finished with 14 appearances and four goals over three different tournaments. 

#11. Xavi (Spain)

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The metronomic presence in Spain’s 2010 World Cup winning side, Xavi brought to fruition a hyper-possession based style of play now known as tiki-taka. While others claim to dictate play and manage matches from the heart of midfield, none have come close to exerting the influence Xavi showcased in South Africa.    

#10. Romario (Brazil)

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The star of USA ’94, Romario scored five goals for Brazil while claiming the Golden Ball as the tournament’s top player. In the business end of the tournament, Romario scored against the Netherlands in the quarters, against Sweden in the semis and converted the all-important second penalty against Italy after Marcio Santos had his attempt saved. 

#9. Lothar Matthaus (Germany)

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With 25 appearances, no player has played in more World Cup matches than Matthaus. A member of five-straight German World Cup squads, the Bayern Munich legend went toe-to-toe with Maradona in both the ’86 and ’90 final, captaining his side to victory in the latter.  

#8. Garrincha (Brazil) 

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When Pele went down injured in 1962, it was Garrincha — the man many consider to be the greatest dribbler of all time — who stepped up and inspired the team in Chile. “The Joy of the People” won the tournament twice while scoring five goals from his wide position. 

#7. Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)

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Cruyff only appeared in one World Cup finals — the 1974 edition — but he was the mastermind of one of the competition’s most legendary sides. The Dutchman scored four goals while introducing the world to the concept of Total Football and the move now known as the Cruyff Turn.  

#6. Gerd Muller (Germany)

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“Der Bomber” cemented his World Cup legacy in 1970 by scoring 10 goals to propel West Germany to a third place finish, but he furthered his status by scoring four at the following tournament, including the match-winning goal against the Netherlands in the final. With 14 goals in only 13 games, Muller has one of the best scoring records in the tournament’s history.  

#5. Zinedine Zidane (France)

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The hero of the 1998 final with a brace against Brazil, Zidane was again the icon during his swan song in the 2006 final — although for very different reasons. Still, his performances throughout the entire ’98 and ’06 events make for the most majestic YouTube highlight reels around. 

#4. Franz Beckenbauer (Germany)

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The captain of the West German side that upset the Netherlands in the 1974 final, “Der Kaiser” did it while essentially inventing the sweeper position. His five goals from the “libero” position tell you everything you need to know about his swashbuckling style. 

#3. Ronaldo (Brazil)

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The Phenomenon was precisely that at both the 1998 and 2002 tournaments, and his total of 15 World Cup goals speaks for itself. His brace in the 2002 final saw him named the Final MVP, an award that sits next to his ’98 Golden Ball, ’02 Silver Ball and ’02 Golden Boot.  

#2. Diego Maradona (Argentina)

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No player has taken a tournament by the scruff of the neck quite like Maradona in 1986, where he was awarded the Golden Ball while also scoring the “Goal of the Century.” 

#1. Pele (Brazil)

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The only player to win three World Cups, Pele reigned supreme on the international stage for 15 years. He dominated the ’58 tournament as a 17-year-old and then did the same in 1970 at the age of 29.  

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