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Defence destroyers

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One thing about the FIFA World Cup is that delivering a top-notch performance in it is the hardest thing to do in football. One may be a star player and a world-beater at the club level, even in international friendlies but come to World Cup, a player needs to be as strong mentally as he is physical. And with good reason, Lionel Messi and Cristiano Ronaldo, probably the two greatest players ever to play the game, have broken left, right and centre records during their impressive careers. However, in the World Cup, Messi’s goal tally is six goals from 19 games, while Ronaldo has fared marginally better with seven goals in 17 matches. These are top-level numbers in the World Cup but well below their high standards.

This makes the FIFA World Cup the pinnacle of football, as it is where even the best can struggle over multiple tournaments. However, there have been certain forwards have left their mark over the years. 

These forwards have etched their names in golden words in the FIFA World Cup history. So, we look at the top 10 forwards to ever play at the FIFA World Cup.

Paolo Rossi 

Paolo Rossi played only in one FIFA World Cup and scored six goals. However, the circumstances under which he delivered this make him one of the top 10 forwards in FIFA World Cup history. Three years before the World Cup, the Serie A was rocked by a match-fixing scandal. Named Totonero, the scandal affected major teams and national team players.

And despite being innocent, he was banned for three years, later reduced to two years, ending just before the 1982 World Cup. So by the time Italy came to the World Cup, they were a mess. No one gave them enough chances, and after the first group stages, they drew all three matches and barely scraped through. 

However, against favourites Brazil, something inside Rossi clicked as he smashed a hat trick to give Italy an unlikely win over one of the best teams never to win a World Cup. He would then score a brace against Poland before adding one more in the final against West Germany to help Italy win an unlikely third World Cup title. 

Just Fontaine 

Just Fontaine only played brilliantly in one World Cup, but his records at that tournament are enough for him to be one of the top ten forwards in FIFA World Cup history. When Fontaine arrived at the 1958 FIFA World Cup, he was already an established part of the French squad. On top of that, he was also an impressive goalscorer. 

However, no one expected Fontaine to have such an impressive World Cup. The Frenchman scored 13 goals, a record for most goals in a single edition of the tournament. This included four goals in a single game against defending champions West Germany. While France would not win the World Cup for four more decades, Fontaine became a legend.

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Winning the Golden Ball in one World Cup and a Golden Boot in another is an achievement that turns a world-class player into a living legend. This is what Ronaldo Luis Nazario de Lima, famously known as Ronaldo, managed to do. When Brazil arrived in the 1998 FIFA World Cup, they were heavy favourites to defend their title. The Selecao had a fantastic team spearheaded by Ronaldo, one of the best strikers in the World. 

And true to his word Ronaldo was brilliant, scoring four goals and providing three assists. What made this more impressive was that his majority of goals and assists came in the knockouts when Brazil needed him the most. Unfortunately, Brazil failed to win the World Cup, losing to hosts France after Ronaldo fainted just before the final.

However, Ronaldo would return four years later to win the elusive title. In the 2002 World Cup, the Brazilian was in the prime of his career and doubled his tally from the previous tournament scoring eight goals, including a brace in the final against Oliver Khan, who would win the Golden Ball award. 


Garrincha would have been the best player Brazil ever produced if not for Pele. However, the two formed one of the most formidable partnerships that brought Brazil back-to-back World Cups. Garrincha was a magician with the ball at his feet. It was said that Garrincha would make the ball move like ‘an obedient animal’.

He was an integral part of the Brazil squad that won the 1958 FIFA World Cup and was also a part of the Team of the Tournament. However, in the 1962 tournament, Garrincha would acquire legendary status. The winger was at the top of his game, scoring four goals and was voted the best player in the World Cup. 

Being voted into the Team of the Tournament twice while being voted the best player in one is enough to make him one of the top 10 forwards in FIFA World Cup history.

Gerd Muller 

Whenever the name of a ruthless goalscorer comes up, Gerd Muller will always be up there. The German, nicknamed Der Bomber, was one of the best football forwards and brought his brilliant form to the World Cups. Muller first came to the scene at the 1970 FIFA World Cup, where he scored a whopping ten goals, the third-highest tally ever in the tournament’s history.

However, Germany failed to win the World Cup, losing to Italy in the semi-final, dubbed ‘the match of the century. And while he could only score four goals in the next World Cup, they all came at crucial moments, including the winning goals in the final against the Netherlands. 

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Cristiano Ronaldo 

The Portuguese is one of the best players ever to kick a ball. And He has been impressive at the World Cup, though not as brilliant as on the club level. In his first three World Cups, Ronaldo only had three goals as he failed to hit the ground running. However, he brought his best in the 2018 FIFA World Cup, scoring four goals, including a brilliant hat trick against one of the best teams in Spain.

And Ronaldo is going to Qatar and has his best chance to win the tournament as Portugal have one of the strongest sides in the FIFA World Cup. While he is 37 years old, on his day, there are none better than Ronaldo and Portugal will be hoping the talisman has one last brilliant tournament left in him. 

Miroslav Klose 

When you have scored the most goals in FIFA World Cup history ahead of legendary players and multiple tournament winners, you ought to be one of the best strikers to ever play at the event. Unfortunately, unlike most world forwards, Miroslav Klose did not have a sparkling club career. However, when the World Cup came, something switched on, and he became one of the best strikers in the World during that time.

In his first World Cup, he scored five goals and provided one assist helping Germany reach the final. In his next World Cup, he matched his tally exactly, scoring five goals and providing one assist. While most players in history have, at best, managed to have two decent World Cups, Klose managed a third, scoring four goals to become the second-highest goal scorer in World Cup history. And in what can be described as the most ironic moment, Klose scored two goals more in the 2014 World Cup, with the second coming in the historic 7-1 win over Brazil, whose former striker Ronaldo he overtook to become the leading goal scorer at the tournament. This is the record he still holds to this day.

Lionel Messi 

The Argentine may not have set the stage on fire in the World Cup in the same way as he did for Barcelona, but he did manage to bring his best at the 2014 FIFA World Cup. Lionel Messi was a man on a mission scoring four goals and providing one assist. One of Argentina’s significant advantages was that since the opposition always had at least two players marking Messi, it opened doors for other players who could exploit gaps in the defence. 

While Messi scored all four goals in the group stages, his contribution was more on the creative side. Messi made 24 key passes in the World Cup, the second-most in history after Xavi in 2010. In addition, he also completed the most take-on at the 2014 FIFA World Cup, which always kept the opposition pressed in their half. 

At the end of the World Cup, he was voted the best player winning the Golden Ball.


Didi is another of such players to come out of Brazil whose legacy has been overshadowed by Pele. The Brazilian played both as a midfielder and forward but played in the latter in the World Cup. 

Didi was an integral part of the team that won the 1958 and 1962 World Cups. And while Pele may have hogged all the limelight, Didi was the ‘brain’ behind the team.

With Zito doing all the dirty work in the midfield, it left Didi to execute his creativity to his full potential. Just Fontaine scored 13 goals, Pele dazzled the World, and there was Garrincha, but Didi won the best player award, which shows what a legendary player he was. He would repeat the trick four years later, scoring only one goal but again being the creative genius and helping Brazil defend their crown.


Well, if you are the only player in the history of football to win three World Cups, you’re world-class. However, if you also played an integral part in each one of those triumphs, then you’re a legend. Edson Arantes do Nascimento, famously known as Pele, remains one of the best players to touch a ball. He arrived at the 1958 FIFA World Cup as an unknown entity but left as one of the game’s biggest stars, scoring five goals, the highest by a Brazilian.

He would repeat the trick four years later. However, his greatest tournament would come in the 1970 World Cup. Pele was injured in the previous World Cup, and Brazil failed to win their third straight World Cup. There were questions on whether Pele could replicate his form from the 1958 and 1962 World Cups. He didn’t. He went better, scoring four goals, bringing Brazil their third title while winning the best player award.

Saumy Deepak Tripathi
A Bayern Munich fan who is deeply in love with football statistics. Has a soft spot for goalkeepers! (well only he knows why). You’ll find him vibing on 70’s classic songs and spends an abnormal amount of time cooking.

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