These players established their greatness by winning some big trophies but the sport’s ultimate prize has eluded them.

Lifting the FIFA World Cup is the dream of every player. Many players have lived the dream, but a lot of them retired empty-handed. Legends who tasted immense success at club level failed to lift this coveted trophy. This Round of 16 saw two of the greatest players of all-time ie Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo bow out of the FIFA 2018 World Cup, in what was probably their last appearance at this grand stage.

Digging deep into football history, here are 10 such great players who havve never won a World Cup. 

10. Zico– Brazil

Zico was one of the unluckiest Brazilian players who played in some of the greatest teams, but failed to bag the coveted trophy. The midfielder was a part of the Brazilian squad for three consecutive World Cups, 1978, 1982 and 1986.

Brazil finished 3rd in 1978, were knocked out in the second round of the 1982 World Cup, despite having perhaps the best national squad in Brazilian history and were knocked out in the quarterfinals in 1986 by France on penalties.

9. Ferenc Puskas- Hungary, Spain

The legendary striker who scored goals for fun also failed to win the World Cup. Puskas scored 514 goals in the 530 matches he played at club level, while he also scored 84 goals from 85 games for Hungary.

He played 1954 World Cup with Hungary winning the Golden Ball. Hungary finished as the runners-up in 1954.  The striker played the 1962 World Cup with Spain after migrating to the country a few years earlier. However, La Roja were knocked out in the group stages.

8. Oliver Kahn- Germany

Watch: Oliver Kahn at the 2002 World Cup

The legendary German goalkeeper was part of the squad for four consecutive World Cups from 1994 to 2006. Kahn failed to make a single appearance in German colours for the first two World Cups.

In 2002, he captained Germany to the second position and became the first goalkeeper to win the Golden Glove award as he conceded only three goals throughout the competition. Germany finished the 2006 World Cup winning the Bronze medal and Kahn’s dream of lifting the trophy remained unfulfilled.

7. Eusebio- Portugal

The Portuguese legend played only a single World Cup in 1966, where his team finished third. The striker won the Golden Boot for scoring nine goals in the tournament.

Eusebio was unlucky as his team failed to qualify for the next three World Cups. He scored goals for fun in club matches and international games and never got a chance to perform again at the grand stage.

6. Johan Cryuff- Netherlands

The three-time Ballon d’Or winner won every major trophy in his club career. Cruyff played just one World Cup, in 1974, as the Netherlands qualified after a massive gap of 24 years. They were just a step away from securing the title as they finished runners-up in the tournament.

Cryuff announced his retirement from international football in 1977 after helping his team to qualify for the upcoming 1978 World Cup. The retirement came as a shock for everyone as the player was just 30-years-old at the time and was in great form.

5. Paolo Maldini- Italy

Watch: Paolo Maldini at the World Cup

The Italian defender played four World Cups from 1990 to 2002. Italy finished third in 1990, runners-up in 1994, were knocked out in the quarterfinals in 1998 and round of 16 in 2002 

The legendary defender had a very successful club career with AC Milan making a record 902 appearances for the club. 

4. Marco van Basten- Netherlands

One of the greatest strikers of all-time, Marco van Basten played only a single World Cup in 1990. The Netherlands bowed out early in the competition, in the second round.

The striker was forced to retire at the age of 30 following a series of injuries, which brought the curtains down on a wonderful career in which he scored 218 goals from 280 club matches and 24 goals in 58 matches for his national side.

3. Wayne Rooney– England

Watch: Wayne Rooney top five goals for England

The all-time top scorer for the Three Lions has no trophies to show at international level. Rooney was part of the English side at the 2006, 2010 and 2014 World Cups, where England bowed out in the quarterfinals, Round of 16 and group stages respectively.

There was much speculations about his return to the national side for the current World Cup, to compete for his first international trophy for one last time, but the striker decided against it.


Talking Points: Are Uruguay the most complete team at the tournament?

Top 5 comebacks in FIFA World Cup history

Talking Points: Is the World Cup really coming home to England?

2- Lionel Messi– Argentina

Argentina were knocked out in the Round of 16 at this World Cup in a nail-biting 7-goal thriller. Messi has tasted huge success in his club career so far, but his international career is trophyless.

The Argentine #10 briefly left the international arena following his team’s loss in the 2015 Copa America final, but returned just a few days later help Argentina qualify for the World Cup of 2018.

1. Cristiano Ronaldo– Portugal

Arguably, the best player of this century is also yet to touch the World Cup trophy. Ronaldo has been Portugal’s saviour for the last few years. The player who sits on top of the list of most international goals scored by active players started this World Cup on a bright note, scoring four goals in two games, but failed to score thereafter.

The defeat against Uruguay could mean that it was Ronaldo’s final game for Portugal on this grand stage, as he will be 37 by the time of the 2022 World Cup. But, who knows, given his fitness and hunger to win, the  #7 could again step up to compete for the only coveted trophy missing from his cabinet.