Some of the game’s greatest players have graced the World Cup through the years and rightfully are a part of its illustrious history. Football Italia runs through the tournament’s hall of fame.
Italy’s two World Cup triumphs of the 1930s owed much to their most prolific scorer. Giuseppe Meazza’s 33 goals in 53 appearances for the Azzurri was a record until beaten by Gigi Riva. Playing a crucial role in Italy’s first World Cup success in 1934, he was captain when they retained the title four years later.
Born in Milan, he joined Inter in 1927 at 17 and within two years was the Italian League’s top scorer, a feat he repeated twice more. In all he scored 355 goals at senior level, his 218 in Serie A being the fourth highest of all time behind Silvio Piola, Gunnar Nordahl and Francesco Totti.
He scored twice on his international debut, against Switzerland in February 1930, and was a virtual ever-present until 1939. An injury put him out of action for most of that season.
He moved to Milan, but played only occasionally until 1942 before guesting for Juventus and Varese. He played for Atalanta for one season in 1945 and then became boss at Inter, occasionally also turning out for them. Meazza died in 1979, aged 69, by which time the Milan clubs had renamed San Siro in his memory.
An international with Uruguay and Italy, Juan Alberto Schiaffino defied those who thought that as a slightly built attacker he would fail against tough international defenders. Born in Montevideo in 1925, Schiaffino broke into the Penarol youth team at 17 and a year later was a first-teamer. At 19, he was a member of Uruguay’s South American championship squad.
In the 1950 World Cup he was the second highest scorer with five goals, including an equaliser against Brazil in the Final which set Uruguay on the road to victory. Four years later, his injury in the semi-final against Hungary contributed hugely to the South American’s defeat. Milan paid a world record £72,000 for him shortly after and within six months he played his first game for Italy, then helped his club to three Serie A titles and got them into the 1958 European Cup Final.
When 33, he moved to Roma and spent two seasons with them before retiring in 1962. In 1976, after nearly 15 years away from the game, Schiaffino took charge of Penarol and had a brief spell as the Uruguayan national team manager. He played for Uruguay 48 times and Italy on four occasions.
Although he appeared in four tournaments and inspired Brazil to three victories, Edson Arantes do Nascimento – Pele as he’s better known – will always be most fondly remembered for his magical first appearance on the world stage.
Born on October 23, 1940, he made his senior debut for Santos a month before his 16th birthday and 10 months later he was capped against Argentina.
Pele made his World Cup Finals debut against Russia and his first World Cup goal was the decider in the 1-0 quarter-final win over Wales. He scored a hat-trick in the semi-final against France and two more in the Final against host nation Sweden. At 17, Pele was the youngest ever winner of the World Cup.
Brazil defended the title four years later in Chile, but Pele was injured early on and missed most of the tournament. Injuries also plagued him in 1966 as Brazil were eliminated in the first round, but in 1970 he was back on top of his game leading Brazil to a record third title. Partnered by Rivelino, Jairzinho and Tostao, Pele’s Brazil of that era was possibly the best team ever.
Goals were Pele’s trademark, scoring a remarkable 77 for Brazil in 92 appearances and 1,281 in 1,363 senior games overall. But he was also a clever, quick-thinking player who could create goals for others. He played his final game for Santos in 1974, but was persuaded out of retirement the following year when he joined New York Cosmos in a £3m deal before finally quitting in 1977.
Surprisingly, he wasn’t top scorer in any of the four World Cups he played in, but he is fifth on the all-time table with 12 goals. Proudly, he’s the only player to have won three World Cups.
Bobby Charlton is synonymous with some of the greatest moments in the English game and also with the highest traditions of sportsmanship. Having pace and a thunderous shot, he scored some of the most spectacular goals English football has ever seen.
Born in Ashington in 1937, he was signed by Manchester United. As one of the Busby Babes to survive the Munich air disaster, he teamed up with Denis Law and George Best in the 1960s as United won the League title three times, the FA Cup once and the European Cup in 1968 when Benfica were beaten 4-1 in a memorable Final at Wembley.
Charlton played more than 750 games for the Reds and scored 247 goals in all competitions. He was also voted European Footballer of the Year in 1966 – the same year England hosted and won the World Cup for the first and so far only time. Charlton was instrumental in England’s triumph with some stunning goals including both in the semi-final win over Portugal. Along with brother Jack, he was a key figure in the extra time Final victory over West Germany.
Charlton retired from international football after the quarter-final defeat by West Germany four years later in Mexico. He’d played 106 times for England – a record at that time – and scored 49 goals, which is still an English record. Retiring completely as a player in 1973, he became manager of Preston, worked as director of Wigan, and in 1984 was appointed a director of Man Utd. Awarded a CBE in 1974 and a knighthood in 1994, he’s currently working as ambassador at Old Trafford.