In the first of a new series, Soccer Scribe counts down the top five players of modern World Cups, starting with the 1982 World Cup in Spain.
5. Rinat Dasaev (USSR)
There were some world class goalkeepers at Espana ’82: Dino Zoff, at 40, was instrumental in Italy beating Brazil to make the last four against the odds; Harald Schumacher was so much more than the personification of German evil – though he was that too – in helping his side win that epic semi-final in Seville against France: Thomas N’Kono was, arguably, the first great African footballer to emerge at the World Cup, keeping goal in tracksuit bottoms for the nascent Cameroon of Roger Milla. But nobody hit the heights of Rinat Dasaev, who defied the mesmeric Brazilians for 75 minutes, kept clean sheets against New Zealand, Belgium, and Poland, and wore some magnificent knee pads. A hero.
4. Zbigniew Boniek (Poland)
After two difficult performances against Italy and Cameroon, Poland finally clicked into gear to qualify for the second phase on the strength of a 5-1 hammering of Peru. Central to that transformation was Juventus-bound Zbigniew Boniek of Widzew Lodz. A fantastically mobile attacking midfield player who menaced defenders, Boniek destroyed the Peruvians with a vintage performance in tandem with Grzegorz Lato, the top scorer of the 1974 World Cup in West Germany. A sensational Boniek hat-trick against Belgium was enough to send the Poles into the semi-finals, but a second booking in the politically fraught clash with the USSR cost him his place for the rematch with the Italians and, in all likelihood, Poland’s chance of making the final.
3. Zico (Brazil)
Zico’s World Cup record doesn’t really justify the elevated reputation he maintains to this day, but he did make an indelible impression in Spain. His 1978 experience was a bit of a disaster, in and out of the Brazilian side for much of the tournament, and in 1986 he was crippled by injury. However, he exploded in Seville against the USSR – and the aforementioned Dasaev, scored a glorious free kick against Scotland, and two wonderful goals against New Zealand, one a technically perfect scissors kick. Another goal against Argentina, and a devastating assist for Socrates against the Italians in Barcelona showcased a player at the top of his game. His playmaking was magnificent, and his vision peerless. He remains one of the last great Brazilian magicians.
2. Karl-Heinz Rummenigge (West Germany)
The double Ballon d’Or holder began the World Cup as expected – scoring against Algeria. However, given that certain German players had already dedicated the expected seventh goal against the North Africans to their wives – and the eighth to their dogs – Rummenigge’s sole strike was something of a failure in the collective meltdown that was a 2-1 loss. On the verge of elimination, with the media calling for them to return home in disgrace, the German captain responded with a hat-trick to devastate Chile. By now carrying another injury, he battered the English crossbar in the last minute of a scoreless draw before returning with a critical goal as a last resort substitute to completely turn the epic semi-final with France in extra time. Nerveless when scoring his sudden death penalty to keep his country in the tournament, his intervention was the main reason the European champions made the final. However, the cost was high. Instead of keeping him for the showdown with Italy – which was the plan – Jupp Derwall had been forced to play his ace. Denied of the necessary recuperation, Rummenigge limped out of the final in the second half with his country two goals down. Injury would ruin Rummenigge’s tournament in Mexico too, though he still managed a goal to launch yet another magnificent comeback attempt in the final against Argentina.
1. Paolo Rossi (Italy)
Paolo Rossi’s six goals in the 1982 World Cup came in just three matches – the last three matches. Anonymous in the narcoleptic group of sleep that contained Peru, Poland, and Cameroon, Rossi was lucky to keep his place for the second phase group of death with Argentina and Brazil. Having returned from a ban for involvement in a betting scandal, Rossi finally found his feet in Espanol’s intimate Sarria stadium where the explosive second phase matches were played. Denied a goal by Argentina’s Ubaldo Fillol, he was nevertheless instrumental in Antonio Cabrini’s decisive second which took Italy into the confrontation with the raging hot favourites Brazil in need of a win. What followed was history, the spindly Italian ruthlessly picking off the chances that fell his way, aided and abetted by some dubious Brazilian defending. With Boniek out of the semi-final, Rossi netted two more against Poland to send Italy into the final. Level with Rummenigge on five goals in the race for the Golden Boot, the Italian struck again early in the second half in Madrid as his rival struggled with injury. Everything had changed in a week for Rossi. From pariah to world renown in three glorious matches over six sun-kissed days. Yet, he was more than simply a poacher. In the six-yard box, he had no equal, and few had his half-chance conversion rate. In his two World Cups, he scored nine goals – and this for a team as defensive as Italy, even if Enzo Bearzot changed their approach.