Messi, Cruyff, Maldini: XI of football legends who have never won an international trophy


Lionel Messi got his 2021 Copa America campaign underway against Chile on Monday night.

It was a poignant opening fixture considering the Chileans inflicted heartbreaking back-to-back Copa America final defeats on Argentina in 2015 and 2016.

In fact, the latter was so devastating for Messi that he briefly decided to retire from international football having also suffered the pain of coming up short in the 2014 World Cup final.

Messi's wait for international glory

It has been well documented that Messi has never won a major international trophy and in the opinion of some, that holds him back when compared to the greatest footballers in history.

However, there is still time for Messi to rewrite the history books if he can either inspire Argentina to a Copa America triumph this summer or all the way to World Cup glory in Qatar next year.

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But let's assume the worst-case scenario for one second because let's face it, Messi will rightfully be considered one of the greatest footballers of all time even if he doesn't secure either accolade.

Players without international trophies

In fact, we can illustrate that point pretty clearly by highlighting other players who justly take their place in the GOAT debate despite having failed to win a major international title just like Messi.

And no, we're not just talking about a smattering of superstars, but rather an entire XI of legends that just happened never to conquer international football for a variety of reasons.

So, without further ado, be sure to check out the full starting XI down below:

GK: Peter Shilton (England)

Assuming you count Oliver Kahn winning Euro 96 despite not playing a single minute, England's most-capped player of all time - appearing 125 times for the Three Lions - gets the nod in goal.


RB: Javier Zanetti (Argentina)

Argentina haven't won a major international trophy since 1993, which is pretty cruel when you consider that Zanetti - one of the nation's greatest ever players - made his debut in 1994.

CB: Jaap Stam (Netherlands)

The Dutch have only ever tasted international glory in 1998, meaning that Stam, as well as many of his compatriots, never got the taste of summer silverware that his world-class ability deserved.


CB: Paolo Maldini (Italy)

Oof. Maldini once called himself 'football's biggest loser' because of his painful Italy record, which includes losing a World Cup final on penalties and a Euros climax thanks to a 'Golden Goal'.

LB: Ashley Cole (England)

It wouldn't feel right if we didn't include a member of England's ill-fated 'Golden Generation' and Cole seems like the ideal candidate as the world's best left-back during the height of his career.


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RM: Lionel Messi (Argentina)

Ah yes, the reason we're here. Messi has come up short in a World Cup final and three Copa America climaxes, but his rotten run of luck with Argentina could come to an end this summer.

CM: Johan Cruyff (Netherlands)

Arguably the best player in the entire XI, Cruyff was a pioneer in the beautiful game and helped inspire the Netherlands to the 1974 World Cup final, which they lost 2-1 to West Germany.


CM: Roberto Baggio (Italy)

The 'Divine Ponytail' has all-too painful memories when it comes to chasing international silverware, famously skying his penalty in the 1994 World Cup final to place the trophy in Brazil's hands.

LM: George Best (Northern Ireland)

With all due respect to Northern Ireland, Best's nationality all but stripped him of any potential shot at international glory and he is regarded as one of the greatest players never to appear at a World Cup.


ST: Eusebio (Portugal)

Portugal made it all the way to the semi-finals at the 1966 World Cup with Eusebio romping his way to the Golden Boot, but the Selecao's outrageous front-line couldn't quite go all the way in England.

ST: Ferenc Puskas (Hungary)

It's tough to imagine making this XI when you once led a World Cup final 2-0, but Hungary's failure to win the 1954 tournament saw Puskas' hopes of crowning his goal-ladened career fade away.


An XI stacked with legends

Oh. My. Goodness. Me.

If you played that XI together in their prime, then you just know that they would have swaggered their way to World Cup, Euros and Copa America glory with plenty left in the tank.

However, whether it was down to bad luck or playing for an understrength nation, failing to crack it on the international stage isn't necessarily an indictment of a player's standing in the sport.

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Besides, the fact that Maldini, Baggio, Best and so many more take pride of place in our starting XI doesn't take away from the fact that they are still some of football's greatest ever athletes.

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