If you’re just getting acquainted with international soccer, here is a brief look at 10 of the greatest stars in the history of the World Cup. As much as soccer is a team sport, one player can catch fire and change the course of the tournament.
Oliver Kahn – Germany
Kahn became the first goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball (Most Valuable Player) award at the 2002 Cup in Korea and Japan. He led the Germans by surrendering just one goal during the tournament until the final match. Kahn, who plays regularly for Bayern Munich, hopes to capture his first World Cup as Germany hosts the event this year.
Ronaldo – Brazil
When Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, it was Ronaldo who scored twice against Germany’s Oliver Kahn in the final match. Ronaldo racked up eight goals in the tournament to win the Golden Shoe (Top Scorer) award. Ronaldo was also part of Brazil’s Cup-winning team in 1994, and his 12 career Cup goals tied Pele for the most in the history of the Brazilian team.
Diego Maradona – Argentina
Maradona scored five goals to help Argentina capture the 1986 Cup in Mexico. He went on to play in Italy for the Napoli team. At the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Maradona battled through an ankle injury to help Argentina to a second-place finish.
Paolo Rossi – Italy
Rossi made his World Cup debut in 1978 at age 21. His three goals and two assists led Italy to a fourth place finish. Four years later, Rossi scored three more goals in a victory over Brazil to put the Italians in the final four. Rossi kept going with two goals against Poland and one against Germany, as Italy won the 1982 Cup in Spain.
Gerd Muller – Germany
Muller was simply the greatest goal scorer of all time. He holds several records, with 365 goals in the German league (Bundesliga), 68 in international competition and 14 in the World Cup. “The Bomber” scored a tournament-best 10 goals in 1970 as the West Germans finished third. He also scored the Cup-winning goal in 1974 against the Netherlands.
Pele – Brazil
Pele’s innovative, exciting style of play transformed the game of soccer. He was part of three of Brazil’s World Cup winning teams in 1958, 1962 and 1970. Pele was only 17 when he scored three goals in the 1958 semifinals against France and two more in the final victory over Sweden.
Eusebio – Portugal
Born in Mozambique, the “Black Panther” was so named for his cat-like dribbling prowess. Eusebio scores nine goals in the 1966 Cup tournament. Four of those goals came in the quarterfinals, as Portugal erased a 3-0 to stun North Korea. Eusebio also played on 11 national championship teams in Portugal.
Mario Kempes – Argentina
Kempes was instrumental in Argentina’s first World Cup victory in 1978. He scored twice in victories over Peru, Poland and in the final game over The Netherlands. Kempes later played for clubs in Austria, Chile, Indonesia and Spain.
Dino Zoff – Italy
Zoff was outstanding as goalkeeper for Italy’s 1982 World Cup-winning team. He competes in three World Cups and compiled a streak of 1,142 minutes without surrendering a goal. Zoff went on to be a coach for several Italian teams from 1988-2001.
Fritz Walter – Germany
The native of Kaiserslautern restored German pride after World War II, leading his nation to a 3-2 upset victory over Hungary in 1954. His hometown stadium is named after him and is a host venue for the 2006 World Cup.