The best soccer players of all time to never win a World Cup

The best soccer players of all time to never win a World Cup

Lionel Messi would have been atop this list had he not gotten it done Sunday

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It’s the pinnacle of soccer. The World Cup is a spectacle unlike any other in sport. And to truly be considered the greatest to ever lace up your cleats, you need to have lifted the trophy. Why can’t Dan Marino be in the discussion for the greatest quarterback of all time? He never won a Super Bowl. What’s the main argument Chicago Bulls fans use to say Michael Jordan is better than Kobe Bryant or LeBron James? His six championships.

Reaching the team pinnacle of your discipline is the easiest easy way to differentiate between legends. Had Argentina not won on Sunday, Lionel Messi would have gone down as the greatest soccer player ever to never have won a World Cup. So now that he’s got his, here’s a look at the best soccer players ever who never got their World Cup.

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Cristiano Ronaldo

Cristiano Ronaldo

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Much like Messi, Ronaldo entered the 2022 World Cup knowing it was likely his final opportunity to win the trophy. And he’s two years older (37) than Messi (35). Ronaldo did win EURO 2016 with Portugal, but never got to a final in five World Cup appearances. His best finish was fourth in 2006, but a loss to Morocco last weekend ended his chase for a World Cup. Ronaldo is incredibly accomplished at the club level with five UEFA Champions League titles. On the international stage, no World Cup will be part of his legacy.

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Johan Cruyff

Johan Cruyff

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One of the best midfielders in the history of soccer raised The Netherlands’ profile to the most accomplished country to never win a World Cup. The Dutch have been runners-up three times at the tournament, including Cruyff’s best finish in second place at the 1974 World Cup, losing to hosts Germany in the final. That would be his only appearance at the global event. Guess the three-time Ballon d’Or winner will have to settle for individual honors.

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Gareth Bale

Gareth Bale

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The one-time most expensive transfer in soccer history, when he moved from Tottenham to Real Madrid, finally got his chance to play at a World Cup in 2022, captaining Wales after a long career. The Welsh didn’t win a game in Qatar, and only garnered one point, and exited the tournament with an embarrassing loss to United Kingdom neighbor England. Yet, Bale can’t be considered one of the best soccer players to never appear in a World Cup.

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Ferenc Puskas

Ferenc Puskas

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FIFA named the “goal of the year” award after Puskas (right). He’s one of the greatest strikers in soccer history. He only made one World Cup appearance in 1954 with Hungary. As the primary goal-scorer for the dominant team of the first part of the 1950s, Puskas led his team to a final against Germany. The Hungarians beat the Germans 8-3 in the group stage and lost to Germany in the final 3-2.

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Michel Platini

Michel Platini

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The former UEFA President appeared in three World Cups for France and never made a final. The French did come in third in 1986, but Platini couldn’t lead Les Blues to a global victory as a coach either, as France didn’t even qualify for the tournament in 1990. The closest Platini got was as one of the organizers for France hosting the tournament in 1998, which it won.

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Paolo Maldini

Paolo Maldini

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One of the greatest defenders ever appeared in four World Cups for Italy, with consecutive showings from 1990-2002. Italy were the hosts in 1990 and didn’t win. The Italians made the final in 1994 and lost in penalty kicks to Brazil, with Maldini missing a try in the global-championship shootout.

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Alfredo Di Stefano

Alfredo Di Stefano

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One of the most decorated club players of all time, leading Real Madrid to five straight European championships, couldn’t replicate the same form at the international level with Spain. He came close on a few occasions to playing in the tournament, but never did due to an injury before the 1962 tournament.

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Eusebio

Eusebio

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The Portuguese legend (center) was by far the nation’s best soccer player before Cristiano Ronaldo arrived. He was the leading scorer at the 1966 World Cup, his only appearance at the global event, but led Portugal to a third-place finish. The country hasn’t reached a World Cup final in history and the best two Portuguese players of all time are featured on this list.

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George Best

George Best

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Sometimes he was known as the “Fifth Beatle” for his looks and being a huge star at the time Paul McCartney and John Lennon ruled the music world. Best played internationally for Northern Ireland and never came close to qualifying for a World Cup with the UK nation. Just how the international dominoes fall.

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Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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One of the most imposing figures in soccer history played in two World Cups for Sweden and didn’t win the most prestigious trophy in the sport. He’s also Zlatan, so he wins at life, and that’s a pretty good consolation prize.

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Oliver Kahn

Oliver Kahn

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Finally, we have a goalkeeper on this list, and Kahn was incredible for Germany in three World Cups. He led the Germans to the 2002 final against Brazil, but couldn’t keep out two Ronaldo goals and had to settle for being a runner-up. He was also Germany’s keeper when the nation hosted the event in 2006. Germany bowed out of the tournament with a semifinal loss to eventual-champion Italy.

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Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

Karl-Heinz Rummenigge

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How unfortunate that Germany won two World Cups from 1974-1990 and Rummenigge (center in white) didn’t play in either? They bookend his three appearances, with the Germans making the final in 1982 and 1986 and losing both times. He’s likely the closest legend to a World Cup trophy who never won it.

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Robert Lewandowski

Robert Lewandowski

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The Polish striker finally got to play in the knockout stage of the World Cup in 2022. He scored a goal in the loss to France, but it was in second-half stoppage time. It was a nice moment for one of the best strikers of his generation, but he truly never got close to the trophy.

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