Imagine a young boy in his yard, a football at his feet but only his mind to simulate opponents and the cauldron atmosphere of a packed stadium. He takes a first touch, looking up to survey the landscape before him, bursting forward into stride as his foot contacts the ball once more. The youth weaves left past an imaginary defender, performing a series of step-overs before surging beyond a giant oak tree. With just a fictitious goalkeeper to beat, he cocks back his right foot and unleashes a screamer that takes a piece out of the siding of his parents’ house.
As he wheels away in celebration, there’s only one thing in his mind. The boy’s searing strike has sealed the World Cup for his nation, hoisting the glimmering Jules Rimet trophy high into the sky the final step in claiming glory. But despite the adrenaline he feels, the boy snaps back into reality for just a moment. He finds himself alone with the sun and the grass, accompanied by nothing but a dream shared by millions the world over of his age. Anybody who has ever aspired to be a footballer likely found themselves in a similar scene. Perhaps it took place in a narrow urban street or in a field high in the mountains instead – but the colorful fantasy was the same.
Winning the World Cup is the greatest honor a footballer can acheive, an emotional moment that a league title or Champions League crown can’t replicate. Relatively few have ever known just what that moment feels like down the years – and because of the nature of international football, not all who have were the elite, cemented in the memories of onlookers. The role-player holds a unique place in the history of World Cup champions, even if these types become somewhat buried in the records as the sands of time shift.
Following are the top 15 forgotten World Cup winners, those who helped carry along their nation to the ultimate prize in the beautiful game – but have been overshadowed by others for one reason or another.
14 Paul Steiner
It’s fair to say that somewhere around his 30th birthday, Paul Steiner likely lost hope that he would ever represent his country. The central defender had spent the majority of his career plugging away with Cologne, where he was an instrumental part of a squad that was among the best in the Bundesliga in the mid-1980s. In 1990, his chance finally came. Steiner made his debut for West Germany in a May friendly against Italy, and was subsequently chosen by Franz Beckenbauer for the World Cup squad, despite expectations that he would be omitted. The then 33-year-old didn’t make a single appearance at the tournament as West Germany emerged victorious. He would never be called up again, retiring from football altogether just a year later to take up a scouting role.
13 Stephane Guivarc’h
For a striker, Stephane Guivarc’h was born with quite a title – his surname translates to “swift stallion” in the regional tongue of his native Brittany. France boss Aime Jacquet certainly saw him in such a positive light in 1998, selecting Guivarc’h to lead the line for Les Bleus in the World Cup on home soil. Guivarc’h was coming off a domestic season in which he had finished top scorer in Ligue 1 with 21 goals for Auxerre. But instead of lighting up the World Cup, the Breton hit man failed to hit the back of the net even once in 275 minutes of action. It didn’t stop France from winning the tournament. Guivarc’h spent a few disappointing months at Newcastle following the tournament before being shipped off to Scotland with Rangers. In 2009 he was named as the worst striker ever to play in the Premier League by the Daily Mail – to which Guivarc’h responded by calling the famous publication “truly a crap newspaper” as he highlighted England’s lack of success on the international stage.
12 Ron-Robert Zieler
Perhaps it’s unfair to Ron-Robert Zieler to place him here. After all, he was crowned a World Cup champion just eight months ago, turned 26 only last month and is one of the top emerging goalkeepers in Europe. Yet, he wasn’t exactly a protagonist in Germany’s victorious run in Brazil, sitting behind both Manuel Neuer and Roman Weidenfeller on the depth chart. With Neuer just 28 for himself, Zieler faces an uphill battle in his career to get consistent minutes for Die Mannschaft – though don’t count him out entirely. The Cologne native rose from the ashes of his short-lived senior tenure at Manchester United – having come up through the youth ranks – to rebuild his reputation in Germany with Hannover.
11 Lionel Charbonnier
Fabien Barthez was the type of player that captured the gaze of those who watched him, and Lionel Charbonnier spent plenty of time observing his fellow Frenchman at the 1998 World Cup. Yet another Auxerre man who would not find fertile ground in his homeland on the international stage that year, Charbonnier’s time with Les Bleus was limited almost strictly to the tournament. His only France appearance came in a June 1997 friendly against Italy at the Parc des Princes, in which he conceded twice. One year later Charbonnier spent the entirety of the World Cup on the bench, lifting the Jules Rimet and fading off into the distance. Charbonnier’s club career would continue at a snail’s pace from there on out with Glasgow Rangers, coming to an end in 2001 in Switzerland with FC Sion.
If there’s one thing Brazil’s victorious 2002 squad had in abundance, it was firepower. Led by none other than Ronaldo up front, the Selecao were a force with the likes of Juninho, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho in support. And then, there was Luizao. The striker played his part in firing Brazil to the World Cup finals by scoring a brace in his country’s final qualification encounter with Venezuela – but the tournament in South Korea and Japan would be a different story. Luizao played just 39 minutes of football throughout, and they would be his last in the famed yellow shirt of his nation. Hertha Berlin brought Luizao back to Europe – he’d played one season at Deportivo La Coruna years earlier – on the back of his World Cup inclusion. The club would later regret the move as he scored just five times in 18 months in Germany. Perhaps Luizao was the Fred of his time.
9 Roque Junior
If Luizao was the precursor to Fred, Roque Junior may well have been the predecessor to David Luiz. Like the current Paris Saint-Germain man, the former Leeds United loanee often seemed far more interested in attacking rather than defending, something of a problem considering his billing as a center back. His lack of willingness to sit back didn’t turn out to be costly for a Brazil side that scored 18 times in South Korea and Japan en route to claiming the title. Roque Junior turned out for all but 90 minutes of the tournament, sitting on the bench for the Selecao’s third group stage game against Costa Rica when qualification to the knockouts was already secured. More so than winning the World Cup, Roque Junior is most known for being part of a Leeds side that conceded 20 goals during his five Premier League games on the pitch for the Elland Road club – and the Brazilian’s career suffered from there on out as a result.
8 Bernard Diomede
A teammate of Stephan Guicarch’s at Auxerre, Bernard Diomede was billed as the intersection where pace and power met out on the wing. At the age of 24, Diomede won his maiden France cap in a January 1998 friendly against Spain and looked set to become a fixture for Les Bleus in the years to come. It wouldn’t exactly turn out that way. The winger went on to appear three times at the coming World Cup, earning starts against Saudi Arabia, Denmark and Paraguay. His round of 16 showing against the latter would be the last France appearance of his career. Diomede went on to spend three years on Liverpool’s books during the reign of Gerard Houllier at Anfield – only turning out five times for the Reds and becoming an infamous flop on Merseyside.
7 Simone Barone
Fabio Cannavaro. Gianluigi Buffon. Alessandro Nesta. Francesco Totti. Andrea Pirlo. Alessandro Del Piero. Italy’s 2006 World Cup side was largely comprised of legends who came together to forge a defining moment in the history of calcio under the darkness of scandal at home. A more modest figure played his part in the form of Simone Barone, journeyman midfielder of Palermo. The Rosanero man came off the bench twice for Marcello Lippi’s Azzurri in Germany, totaling 38 minutes of action between showings against Czech Republic and Ukraine. Barone celebrated Italy’s eventual title win at the expense of France as much as any, but it would prove his final act in international football. Moving on to Torino with the title of World Cup-winner, Barone spent three years the Granata before seeing his career fizzle out with spells at Cagliari and Livorno.
Brazil’s squads for major tournaments are often sprinkled with a number of players based in the South American nation who have yet to migrate to Europe. Kleberson was one such player in Luis Felipe Scolari’s 2002 Selecao side, plying his trade for Atletico Paranense at the time. He wouldn’t force his way into the starting line-up until Brazil’s quarter-finals match-up with England, starting against Turkey and Germany in the two following matches as well. Scolari was instantly boastful of Kleberson’s impact on the Selecao’s fortunes, and Manchester United took this as a cue to sign him a year later. The Brazilian’s spell at Old Trafford was exceedingly poor and he’d drop out of the Selecao picture with little stability in his club career. Where is Kleberson now? Playing for the Indy Eleven in the second division North American Soccer League at 35 years of age.
6 Vincenzo Iaquinta
Part of a long list of players who have flourished at Udinese down the years, Vincenzo Iaquinta’s 16 goals across all competitions in the 2005-06 campaign secured his place in the Italy squad. The striker traveled to Germany as one of Marcello Lippi’s weapons off the bench, confirming his super-sub status with a goal in the Azzurri’s group stage opener with Ghana. From there on out, the sailing wasn’t as smooth – but Iaquinta was nonetheless effective, even if he wasn’t able to get on the scoresheet again as Italy prevailed in the tournament. A year later Juventus saw fit to bring the Italian to Turin, and there Iaquinta found some initial success. His career tailed off drastically after 27 goals in two seasons, however, meaning by the age of 30 Iaquinta was well into decline. To this day it is a common question asked in the Italian press why Iaquinta’s spell at the top of his game was so brief.
5 Raul Albiol
Sure, Raul Albiol is alive, well and kicking at this point. He’s won over 50 Spain caps during his career, represented the likes of Valencia, Real Madrid and Napoli and has a trophy haul most players would give anything to have. But no, the 29-year-old isn’t remembered as a pillar of the historic Spain side that followed up a Euro 2008 triumph by claiming their first World Cup win in South Africa in 2010. Albiol didn’t play a single minute at the tournament, in which Spain conceded just twice, kept on the outside looking in by the center back pairing of Carles Puyol and Gerard Pique. That being said, nobody can ever take away Albiol’s title of World Cup champion – and he still has years left yet to continue building a legacy for himself with La Furia Roja.
4 Alain Boghossian
Alain Boghossian is perhaps best remembered as part of a famed Parma side that also included Gianluigi Buffon, Hernan Crespo, Juan Sebastian Veron, Fabio Cannavaro and Lilian Thuram. While he flourished in Emilia-Romagna, the Frenchman’s impact at the international level was far less profound. Boghossian picked up a winner’s medal at the 1998 World Cup, but wasn’t exactly a driving force behind the side’s success. Aime Jaquet granted him just one start – in the group stage against Saudi Arabia – as Les Bleus picked their way to the showpiece event at the Stade de France. Boghossian’s UEFA Cup win the following May was a far more defining moment of his career in retrospect, as the Frenchman found himself a protagonist for the Ducali on the way to European glory. In 2003, the midfielder was forced into retirement despite his relatively low 32 years of age, long affected by injuries that limited his effectiveness.
3 Juliano Belletti
Making his Brazil debut in 2001, Juliano Belletti found himself held at bay by the legendary Cafu at right back, having been converted after starting out his career as a midfielder. Belletti traveled to Asia with the Selecao in summer 2002 to provide cover for the senior Cafu, and in turn found himself watching glory unfold from the bench for all but five minutes of the competition, played in the semi-final against Turkey. The Valencia man would earn himself a move to Barcelona two years later, scoring the winner in the 2006 Champions League final before going on to become a cult hero at Chelsea in the twilight of his career. Belletti was a player beloved by supporters for his prodigious work rate and long shot technique – though not one that stands out in the mind with respect to Brazil’s run to immortality in 2002.
2 Angelo Peruzzi
Poor Angelo Peruzzi was often a victim of circumstance at the international level, never able to take the reigns as Italy’s starting goalkeeper at an international tournament. Injuries late in the day cost him his place at both the 1998 World Cup and Euro 2000. So demoralized was Peruzzi by the time that the 2002 World Cup rolled around that he turned down the chance to be the Azzurri’s third-string goalkeeper in the competition. “The mascots for the World Cup have already been chosen,” Peruzzi said. The shot stopper did back up Gianluigi Buffon and Francesco Toldo at Euro 2004, returning at the 2006 World Cup as the former’s 36-year-old understudy. Peruzzi collected a winner’s medal at that tournament, but even for an impressive club career, stands as something of a footnote in World Cup lore.
1 Carlos Marchena
A nailed-on starter for Spain in Euro 2008, Carlos Marchena was brilliant for La Furia Roja and accordingly won himself a place in the team of the tournament. But turning 29 just after the end of the competition, Marchena was to slowly see his place in the line-up ripped away by an emerging Gerard Pique. By the 2010 World Cup Marchena had been definitively relegated to a place on the bench, sitting in wait of limited opportunities to affect proceedings. Three times the Spaniard was sent on to shore up the defense by Vicente De Boque, playing a single minute against both Portugal and Germany and six minutes opposite Paraguay in the knockout stages. It’s Puyol and Pique that will long be remembered for anchoring Spain’s back line to victory in South Africa, but Marchena was still in the picture, coming away with the top prize football has on offer.