The 2014 World Cup represents Barcelona superstar Lionel Messi’s best chance of confirming his greatness at international level after he failed to scale the heights in his first two tournaments.
Here, AFP Sports identifies five former greats who all secured their legacies at world football’s showpiece event:
PELE (1958, 1962, 1966, 1970)
The only player to win the World Cup three times, Pele stormed onto the global scene as a 17-year-old at the 1958 World Cup in Sweden, where he scored twice in a 5-2 win over the hosts in the final. Although injury forced him out of the 1962 tournament, which Brazil won, and brutal tackling limited his influence in 1966, he played a starring role in the 1970 competition in Mexico, scoring once in the final against Italy and setting up a famous goal by Carlos Alberto as Brazil claimed their third crown.
JOHAN CRUYFF (1974)
Cruyff played at only one World Cup, in West Germany in 1974, but his performances were sufficient to establish him as the most stylish and influential player of his generation. The on-pitch embodiment of Total Football, Cruyff led the Dutch out of the group phase and scored a fine volley in a 2-0 win over holders Brazil in the last four, only to be marked out of the game by Berti Vogts as Rinus Michels’s side fell to the hosts in the final.
DIEGO MARADONA (1982, 1986, 1990, 1994)
Omitted from Argentina’s victorious World Cup squad in 1978, Maradona had a bitter first experience of the tournament in Spain four years later when he was sent off against Brazil as the holders went out in the second round. He made up for lost time in 1986, inspiring Argentina to their second title with magnificent individual goals against England and Belgium, before leading the team to a second successive final in 1990, when they lost to West Germany. Aged 33, he captained Argentina again in the United States in 1994, but was sent home in disgrace after failing a drugs test.
RONALDO (1998, 2002, 2006)
A non-playing member of Brazil’s triumphant 1994 squad, Ronaldo’s power, audacious dribbling and lethal finishing made him the star of the 1998 World Cup in France, only for a mysterious pre-match fit to limit his impact on the final, when his side lost 3-0 to the hosts. He exorcised his demons in emphatic fashion four years later in Japan and South Korea, scoring eight goals as Brazil claimed their fifth title, before becoming the competition’s all- time leading scorer at the 2006 event in Germany.
ZINEDINE ZIDANE (1998, 2002, 2006)
Zidane’s maiden tournament began in ignominious fashion when he was sent off for stamping on an opponent in a group-stage match against Saudi Arabia in 1998, but he returned to score two headers as France beat Brazil to claim their first World Cup. Hampered by a thigh injury four years later, he could not prevent France from being knocked out in the first round. After coming out of retirement, he rolled back the years to fire France to the final in 2006, putting his side ahead with a chipped penalty, but was sensationally sent off for headbutting Italy’s Marco Materazzi in extra time.