The stage of the World Cup is so large that an outstanding performance — or a monstrous choke — looms large on a player’s reputation. Here are some nominees for most outstanding performances from the previous 18 World Cups.
Greatest tournament by a player
The player with the most goals in a single tournament is not a household name like Pele, Maradona or Ronaldo. The record holder is Just Fontaine, who scored an unbelievable 13 goals in 1958. He managed to score in every French game, including a four-goal frenzy against West Germany in the consolation match. Unfortunately for France, his career was cut short by injury.
During his short international stint, he managed an incredible 30 goals in 21 matches. Fontaine’s record for goals in a single World Cup tournament not only has stood for more than 50 years, it may last indefinitely, because of modern soccer’s focus on minimizing scoring opportunities.
Greatest game by a player
In 1966, a Mozambique-born player named Eusebio turned in an outstanding performance for his adopted country of Portugal. While he scored nine goals in the tournament, his greatest game — and perhaps the greatest game ever played in a World Cup — came in the quarterfinals against North Korea. The virtually unknown Korean squad shocked the Portuguese by taking a 3-0 lead in the game’s first 25 minutes. But then, Eusebio took control of the game. In just 30 minutes, he managed four goals as his side went on to defeat the upstarts, 5-3. (Type in “North Korea vs. Portugal 1966 World Cup” at www.you
tube.com to watch his goals.)
Greatest team performances
The 1970 Brazilian team that won all six games, racking up 19 goals and conceding only six, combined outstanding individual talent with a team understanding that conspired to destroy opponents. One goal in the final exemplified the mixture of team and individual play. A Brazilian fullback dribbled through four players before passing the ball to a teammate, who then knocked a 20-yard pass to a winger, who received the ball and centered it to Pele.
Pele, feared for his ability to beat players on the dribble, was given space, but he promptly played the ball in front of an on-charging Carlos Alberto, who shot while at a dead sprint, striking a low and hard shot past the helpless Italian goalie. It was the final goal of the 1970 World Cup, giving Brazil a 4-1 victory. (Watch it on youtube.com.)
You might have noticed that I, and most fans, favor soccer that is open and exciting and involves goal-scoring. But one of the greatest performances in World Cup history involves defense. In the most recent World Cup, Italy played seven games and conceded only two goals. But even that amazing stat doesn’t tell the whole story.
The two goals they conceded were on a penalty and an own goal. No one scored upon the Italians in the “normal” course of play. While their brand of soccer may not be the most exciting, it is obviously effective.
The next greatest
Of the 736 players on the rosters of the 32 teams this year, who will score the memorable goals or make the crucial saves? Will one of the 32 teams dominate its opponents and be recognized by future fans as one of the best of all time?
We’ll find out, beginning in two short weeks.
Greg Olson is a soccer enthusiast and the athletic director at Baymonte Christian School in Scotts Valley. This is the fourth in a series of columns leading up to the mid-June World Cup in South Africa.