Diego Maradona, Pele, Lionel Messi, or Franz Beckenbauer are the names we typically think of when thinking about World Cup legends or World Cup heroes. They are the players every kid has a poster of, or every kid thinks about emulating.
When a World Cup starts Cristiano Ronaldo, Karim Benzema are the players every fan wants in their sticker book. Then there are unlikely heroes, guys who come out of the blue to turn themselves into World Cup legends.
Below are 25 players who cemented their place as a national hero or out of this world soccer player at a World Cup. Some names will be familiar, and others are well deserving of recognition.
Obdulio Varela - 1950
The captain of the Uruguayan national team in the 1950 World Cup, he coined the phrase “los de afuera son de palo” meaning the fans don’t count, when Uruguay was set to take the field against Brazil in front of 180,000 fans. His legend has grown since then and is considered the quintessential Uruguayan.
Romário - 1994
As Brazil bulldozed through the 1994 World Cup to win their historic fourth title, Romário stood out above anyone else as the team’s biggest star. Romário scored 5 goals just 1 shy of joint top scorer and is to many one of the best strikers in Brazilian soccer history.
Salvatore Schillaci -1990
For one month in 1990 Salvatore Schillaci was a national hero for Italy, scoring 6 goals and being the golden boot of the tournament. After the 90 World Cup Schillaci’s career went south, but there will always be that one month.
Sebastián Abreu - 2010
Sebastián Abreu will live in the hearts of Uruguayan soccer fans forever after scoring his famous Panenka style PK that sent Uruguay to their first semifinals in 40 years.
Marco Materazzi - 2006
Marco Materazzi scored one of Italy’s greatest World Cup goals, the tying goal against France in the final. Materazzi would later be the culprit of getting Zinedine Zidane sent off and then he’d score in the penalty kick shootout. Really a cup to remember for the Italian defender.
The entire USMNT 1994 team
The United States hosted the World Cup in 1994 and really had a very recognizable team, in fact quite possibly the most recognizable USMNT squad at a World Cup ever. Tony Meola, Alexi Lalas, Cobi Jones, and Eric Wynalda become heroes to a generation of fans who wanted the sport back in the US. Many would return to play in MLS and others continued their careers in Europe, but the USA 94 team is iconic for many reasons.
Sergio Goycochea - 1990
El Vasco Sergio Goycochea became a national hero in Argentina after making decisive penalty kick saves in games against Yugoslavia and Italy in the World Cup of 1990. Not privileged with an amazing club career, Goycochea had an incredible national team career which saw him win three titles with Argentina.
Roberto Baggio - 90, 94, 98
Three cups and three aspects of his career, Roberto Baggio always showed up, in 1990 he was a young buck and scored 2 goals, in 1994 Baggio carried Italy to the final with 5 goals, and in France 98 he returned to the national team after a fantastic season to score two goals.
Alcides Ghiggia - 1950
The man who silenced Maracana and gave way to El Maracanazo. Ghiggia would score Uruguay’s go-ahead goal to defeat Brazil in one of the biggest upsets in World Cup history. Over 180,000 people were in shock and disbelief as Uruguay lifted the World Cup in Rio de Janeiro.
Garrincha - 1962
Winner of two World Cup’s with Brazil, Garrincha was a dazzling player known for his great skill on the ball and often standing out on a team that had a guy named Pele. Garrincha is defined as the true essence of Brazilian soccer.
Bert Patenaude - 1930
Bert Patenaude of the United States is the first player to ever score a hat-trick at the World Cup, he scored the USMNT three goals against Paraguay in the famous Gran Parque Central stadium home to Nacional of Uruguay.
Luka Modrić - 2018
Croatia was an unlikely World Cup finalist in 2018, led by Luka Modrić, whose play on the field was both mesmerizing and inspiring. Croatia had to play extra time in the round of 16, quarterfinals, and semifinals. And there was Luka Modrić, balling.
René Houseman - 1978
René Houseman was an amazing player, full of skill and trickery that defines Argentine soccer. Houseman was unpredictable, often resorting to all the skills he learned in the streets. René Houseman became famous for his skill and always leaving the pitch with a dirty uniform.
José Nasazzi - 1930
José Nasazzi is a legend in South American soccer circles, he captained with elegance the Uruguayan side that won the first ever World Cup. Known as an elegant defender and an inspirational captain, the legend of Nasazzi led to all the traits each captain of the Uruguayan team has had to uphold since.
Landon Donovan - 2010
Landon Donovan is Mr. World Cup for the USMNT but his last second goal against Algeria lifted him to legend. In a wild match where the US was 0-0 in injury time against Algeria, the USMNT was third and out of reaching the round of 16, then Donovan scored and in 1 second lifted the USMNT to first place in the group.
Yerry Mina - 2018
The Colombian defender had a 2018 World Cup for the ages, scoring three goals in the tournament against Poland, Senegal, and England. Mina can get a drink anywhere in Colombia for the rest of his life.
Lilian Thuram - 1998
An incredible defender, Lilian Thuram turned unlikely goal scorer, netting France’s two semifinal goals against Croatia. Lilian Thuram had a brilliant World Cup on a team full of attacking stars, guess defense always wins the game.
Sándor Kocsis - 1954
Sándor Kocsis scored 11, yes 11 World Cup goals in 1954 to take Hungary to the finals but it was not enough as the team lost to West Germany. That Hungry side scored the most goals in 1 World Cup with 27.
Peter Shilton - 1982- 1990
A rock in the English nets, Peter Shilton is tied for the most clean sheets in World Cup history with 10. Shilton played 125 times for the Three Lions.
Tim Cahill - 2006 - 2018
Mr. World Cup for Australia, Tim Cahill scored some spectacular goals in all of the tournaments he played in netting 5 goals. Cahill also played in MLS with the New York Red Bulls where he became a huge fan favorite.
Enzo Scifo - 1986
In a World Cup dominated by Diego Maradona, many forget the style and grace of Belgium midfielder Enzo Scifo, who scored two goals in the tournament and was known for his passing and eye for goal.
Davor Šuker - 1998
In a World Cup where Croatia surprised everyone it was Davor Šuker who was putting the ball in the back of the net. Davor Šuker became famous for checking his pulse before taking penalty kicks in important matches.
Luis Suárez - 2014
Luis Suárez felt the heat of the British press well over a year, then his goal against England lifted Uruguay after a terrible defeat to Costa Rica in the first match of the group. Suárez’s goal not only gave Uruguay the win, but they’d also go on to defeat Italy and qualify from the group, it’s that goal that lifted Luis Suárez from just a great player to a national hero.
Roger Milla - 1990
Now 70, Roger Milla was 38 when he played in the Italy World Cup in 1990, when it was all said and done, he was a World hero, scoring amazing goals, two against Colombia in the round of 16. In 1994 he played in the World Cup again at 42 years of age.
Joe Gaetjens -1950
Joe Gaetjens scored one of US Soccer’s greatest goals when the USMNT defeated England in the 1950 World Cup. The Americans were barely professionals and Gaetjens was a part-time soccer player and full-time dishwasher. After the World Cup Gaetjens went to play for the famed Racing of Paris.