World Cup - the greatest players to never win it

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Football News

With a lot of pressure riding on the shoulders of the world's two best players, Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi, ahead of this summer's tournament, Simon Lillicrap looks at the best players who failed to have success at an international level...

George Best

Best is regarded as one of the best players to play for Man United, but was never given the chance to represent his beloved Northern Ireland at a World Cup as they failed to qualify until after the peak of his career. One of Best's highlights was in a game against the Netherlands where he took the ball to the greatest player in the world at the time, Johan Cruyff and nutmegged him. Pelé said “George Best was the greatest player in the world.” 


The Portugal striker scored an unbelievable 41 goals in 65 games for his country but was unable to inspire his side to glory in 1966. He scored four goals in one games against North Korea but it was eventually champions England that denied him glory in the semi-finals, despite Eusebio scoring a penalty. Portugal went on to finish third.

Eric Cantona

Although adored by the English fans and one of the most skilful players to grace the Premier League, in France he was not so appreciated. He appeared 45 times for his country, scoring 20 goals, but never appeared at a major tournament. 

Johan Cruyff

Cruyff never won a World Cup, but he came incredibly close in 1974 leading his team to the final where they lost to West Germany 2-1. Cruyff was named player of the tournament after some inspirational displays and is regarded as the master of 'total football'.

Ferenc Puskàs

Hungary went into the 1954 World Cup having not lost for five years and having been the first team to beat England at Wembley, embarrassing them 6-3. However, it was once again a case of what could have been for Puskàs, as his side reached the final but lost to the West Germans in terrible weather conditions. He scored 84 goals in 85 games for Hungary and was named player of the tournament in 1954.

Alfredo Di Stefano

Di Stefano was described as "the most complete player to play the game" by Pelé, but like Best and Cantona, never got the chance to play at a World Cup.

One of the best goal-scorers of his generation, oddly he played for three international teams; Argentina, Colombia and Spain. He had the most caps for Spain (31) but never played at a World Cup. In 1950 and 54 Argentina did not enter, in 1958 (now playing for Spain) the Spanish did not qualify and in 1962, Di Stefano picked up a muscle injury, ruling him out.

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