FIFA World Cup: 26 cult heroes that the streets will never forget

South Africa's midfielder Siphiwe Tshaba

The next FIFA World Cup is just over two years away.

No matter what country or club you support, which league you follow or which player you idolise, there's nothing quite like the global footballing carnival that unfolds once every four years.

Football can be a complicated and confusing place, but there's nothing more simple and beautiful than the best nations in the beautiful game competing to become the number one in the world.

Icons like Diego Maradona, Pele and Zinedine Zidane have all lifted the famous trophy, while legends such as Lionel Messi, Johan Cruyff and Ferenc Puskas have come within a hair of glory.

But as well as know, the World Cup is about more than just the biggest names in the sport and not a tournament goes by without a previously unknown player capturing everyone's imagination.

World Cup cult heroes

We're sure a few names are already coming to mind, but hold that thought, because we've decided to name 26 World Cup cult heroes that the streets will never forget.

You might have read our lists on this very topic for the Premier League and Champions League, but nothing is bigger than the World Cup and we've honed in on the modern era since 1986.

So, apologies to any of the pre-1986 heroes worthy of equal much praise, but here are just some of the World Cup players we believe the streets - and you - won't be forgetting in a hurry:


1. Diego Forlan

What better place to start than the 2010 Golden Ball winner?

Forlan was an absolute wizard with the infamous Jabulani ball at his feet, scoring three of his five goals from outside the penalty and one of the 'close range' strikes was voted as FIFA's goal of the tournament.

Uruguay's striker Diego Forlan celebrate

2. Josimar

The oldest name on the list and one of the unlikeliest tales of all.

Josimar made his Brazil DEBUT in their second match of the 1986 World Cup and scored an absolute worldie after just 42 minutes, unleashing a missile into the top corner from 25 yards out.

Then, in the next game, he dribbled past three defenders to score a stupendous individual goal, eventually booking himself a place in the FIFA All-star XI for the tournament.

3. Fabio Grosso

Scorer of THAT winner against Germany in the dying seconds of extra time and scorer of the winning penalty in the final shootout vs France... all from left back... the streets will never forget.

Italian defender Fabio Grosso celebrates

4. Keisuke Honda

Fair play to Honda because the Japanese star has actually scored at three World Cup tournaments, but it's his performances in 2010 that have earned him a spot on the list.

Honda made the world stand up with his magical feet in South Africa, bagging the winner in Japan's first game and turning into Cristiano Ronaldo to score a knuckleball free-kick vs Denmark.

5. Gabriel Batistuta

The streets won't forget Batistuta in general, but there was something about the World Cup stage that elevated his game to the next level.

'Batigol' netted a remarkable 10 World Cup goals in just 12 appearances and remains the only player to have scored a hat-trick at consecutive tournaments.


6. Bebeto

A thoroughly underrated striker for Brazil at both the 1994 and 1998 competitions with Romario and Ronaldo hogging the limelight in each; we have to include Bebeto for that iconic celebration alone.

7. Enner Valencia

West Ham fans will be the first people to tell you that Valencia wasn't all he was cut out to be, but three goals in as many games at Brazil 2014 made him the talk of the pubs that summer.

Honduras v Ecuador: Group E - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

8. Saeed Al-Owairan

Sue us, we're including Al-Owairan for one goal and one goal alone.

Al-Owairan made Saudi Arabia's first World Cup appearance immortal by scoring one of its greatest ever goals, bulldozing through what felt like the entire Belgium team for a run Maradona would have been proud of.

9. Oliver Kahn 

Oh mama, Kahn's performances at the 2002 World Cup are the stuff of legend and that's despite dropping an absolute clanger to gift Ronaldo a goal in the final.

Germany's number one was a man possessed during the road to Yokohama, becoming the first ever goalkeeper to win the Golden Ball for a string of stunning saves and Man of the Match displays.

German national soccer team captain and

10. Denis Cheryshev

Russia surprised just about everyone with their romp to the quarter-finals on home soil in 2018 and Cheryshev's four goals from midfield played a massive part in that.

The streets will never forget Cheryshev's Bergkamp-like touch to score vs Saudi Arabia in the opening game nor his absolute rip-roarer of a strike against Croatia. What a baller.

Russia v Croatia: Quarter Final - 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia

11. Roger Milla

Is this the most unoriginal selection of all time? You bet, but there's a reason why Milla is forever associated with the World Cup and it's not just because of his corner flag jig.

Milla defied the odds at Italia 90 by scoring four goals despite never making the starting XI and taking to the field at age 38, becoming the oldest scorer in World Cup history.

He then scored in his forties at the 1994 competition to break his own record. Remarkable.


12. Miroslav Klose

Klose was always a top, top striker, don't get us wrong, but he became a completely different animal at the World Cup and he remains the competition's all-time top scorer with 16 goals.

The Germany burst on to the scene with five headed goals in 2002, bagged another five on home soil in 2006, found the net four times in 2010 and snatched the record from Ronaldo with two goals in 2014.

Germany v Argentina: 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final

13. Siphiwe Tshabalala

Yeh, we'll just leave you with the commentary: "GOAL BAFANA BAFANA! GOAL FOR SOUTH AFRICA! GOAL FOR ALL OF AFRICA. REJOICE!"

14. Jon Dahl Tomasson

Tomasson bagged himself a move to AC Milan by scoring four times for plucky Denmark in 2002.

The cult hero rattled home a brace against Uruguay, got one over a Senegal team on its way to the quarter-finals and even found the net in a famous win against world champions France.

Denmark's Jon Dahl Tomasson celebrates after his 6

15. Yordan Letchkov

Another player from 1994 that we can't help selecting on the basis of an iconic and unlikely goal.

Letchkov became the most unexpected of household names when he scored the winner against world champions Germany with a header from his unforgettable priest-like haircut. You love to see it.


16. Carlos Valderrama

Do we actually need to explain why the streets will never forget Valderrama? Just look at the bloke and what a player he was, by the way.


17. Tim Krul

It's pretty amusing that Krul has become so associated with the World Cup when, technically speaking, he's never even touched the ball during regular time in the competition.

But the streets will never forget when he replaced Jasper Cillessen in added time of extra time to save two Costa Rice penalties in the ensuing shootout, courtesy of plenty of s***housery, to send the Netherlands through.

Netherlands v Costa Rica: Quarter Final - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil

18. Theo Whitmore

Jamaica are always loveable underdogs in the world of sport and the Caribbean nation wanted to bow out of the 1998 tournament on a high note after being walloped 5-0 by Argentina.

And although it wasn't enough to qualify from the group, they did just that by beating Japan 2-1 and it was little-known midfielder Whitmore who become the hero by scoring a memorable brace.

19. Salvatore Schillaci

Six of the seven goals that 'Toto' Schillaci ever scored for Italy came at the 1990 World Cup. Mental.

Schillaci unexpectedly became the host nation's hero by scoring a winner off the bench against Austria in their opening game and the rest is history, winning the Golden Boot, Golden Ball and finishing second in the Ballon d'Or.


20. Ahn Jung-hwan

From a player loved in Italy, to one absolutely despised in Italy, so much so that his club Perugia literally sacked him after the tournament in question.

Jung-hwan, who scored twice as South Korea remarkably reached the semi-finals, (in)famously bagged the extra-time winner in a clash with Italy that remains a topic of controversy to this day.


21. Zé Roberto

Roberto is something of an underrated footballing gem in general and that was no more apparent than with his under-the-radar performances at Germany 2006.

Despite playing in a Brazil team that featured Kaka, Ronaldo, Adriano, Ronaldinho, Roberto Carlos and Cafu, he was the nation's only player to be picked in FIFA's Team of the Tournament.

Brazilian midfielder Ze Roberto points t

22. Rü┼čtü Reçber

Reçber was destined for the Golden Glove award in 2002 if it wasn't for Kahn's brilliance, but Turkey's star man in their unexpected romp to the semi-finals hasn't been forgotten by the streets.

Rustu Recber of Turkey

23. Oleg Salenko

Every single goal that Salenko ever scored for Russia came at the 1994 World Cup.

Salenko shared the Golden Boot with the legendary Hristo Stoichkov for his efforts and remains the only player to ever scored five goals in a single World Cup match.

24. James Rodriguez

Rodriguez has been a decent player for Real Madrid ever since the World Cup hype, but we're not sure he'll ever reach the dizzying heights that won him the 2014 Golden Boot ever again.

The streets will never forget his sumptuous solo goal against Japan, his Puskas-award winning goal over Uruguay and even the massive bug that sat on his arm during the Brazil defeat. Iconic.


25. Robert Vittek

Italy fans still get a chill down the back of their neck when they hear this name.

Aside from scoring against New Zealand and the Netherlands, Vitteck is most famous for eliminating world champions Italy with a superb two-goal haul in Slovakia's stunning 3-2 win.

Slovakia's striker Robert Vittek celebra

26. Yerry Mina

And finally, one of just two picks we've made from Russia 2018, but how could the streets possibly forget a future Everton defender turning into Ronaldo for a few days?

Mina mind-blowingly scored three goals in just four games from defence on the biggest stage of all and nearly rescued Colombia from the jaws of elimination against England.


So many iconic underdogs

You all remember when these players were the talk of the summer, don't you?

Without fail, there are always unexpected heroes at every World Cup tournament and that stage alone makes everybody think that they're automatically top, top players.

You know need to look at big clubs buying into the World Cup hype to know that's not always the case, but that doesn't make it any less fun to imagine you've spotted the next big thing. 

SD Eibar v Real Madrid CF - La Liga

And with the next tournament in Qatar approaching quicker and quicker, you can be sure that players you've never heard of will be preparing to leave their impression on the world.

Besides, if the world doesn't forget you, then the streets certainly won't either.

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