On Sunday, the World Cup final will be played between Argentina and France. Kylian Mbappe and Lionel Messi have motivated their respective countries throughout the previous month in Qatar.
Will the Argentine finally win the trophy that has escaped him, making the tournament known as the “Messi World Cup,” or will Mbappe lead France to more victories, building on their success from four years ago in Russia? BBC Sport has examined six additional players who contributed significantly to their nation’s past victories.
Pele, Brazil – 1958
When Brazil traveled to Sweden for the 1958 World Cup, Pele was just 17 years old and hoping to lead his country to its first World Cup victory. The forward, who did not play in his nation’s first two matches, then stood out in a 2-0 victory over the Soviet Union and scored the game-winning goal in a 1-0 victory against Wales in the quarterfinals.
Pele became unstoppable at that point. He scored three goals in a 5-2 victory over France in the semifinals, and two more in a 5-2 victory over Sweden in the championship game. One of those goals was a brilliant effort in which he flicked the ball over a defender who had attempted to clatter him with a knee-high challenge before volleying it into the goal.
Pele won that World Cup, his first of three, even though he only participated in the first two games due to an injury. He scored four goals in 1970, including Brazil’s first in the exciting 4-1 victory against Italy in the final, and was at his very best.
Mario Kempes, Argentina – 1978
Two times, Argentina has won the World Cup, and both times, one individual has been crucial to their success. On home turf, it was Mario Kempes in 1978. The Valencia striker, the only member of Argentina’s squad who did not play his football in Argentina, entered the competition having scored the most goals in La Liga in each of the previous two seasons.
Kempes was scoreless in the opening round of group play, but in the second round, he excelled, scoring both goals in a 2-0 victory over Poland and the first and third in a 6-0 triumph against Peru.
As a result, Argentina advanced to the final, where Kempes scored twice more in a 3-1 victory over the Netherlands. Kempes not only contributed to his nation’s first victory but also was named the competition’s top scorer and best player.
Paolo Rossi, Italy – 1982
Italian striker Paolo Rossi had only recently returned to play following a two-year suspension for his involvement in a Serie A match-fixing incident at the time of the 1982 World Cup in Spain, and national manager Enzo Bearzot had come under fire in the Italian media for choosing him.
However, after a shaky beginning, the striker shone against Brazil by tallying a spectacular hat-trick in a game that Italy needed to win to go to the semi-finals. He then scored both goals in the 2-0 semifinal triumph over Poland, and the first goal Italy scored in the 3-1 victory over West Germany.
With his six goals, Rossi won the Golden Boot as the tournament’s leading scorer and the Golden Ball as a player of the match.
Diego Maradona, Argentina – 1986
Diego Maradona, Argentina’s captain, set an excellent example in 1986, leading his country to victory in the championship match in Mexico. Argentina won the group after scoring first in a 1-1 draw with Italy.
He scored twice in the quarterfinals to defeat England 2-1. Maradona’s first goal was the famed “Hand of God” goal, which he scored by punching the ball past Peter Shilton. However, his second goal, which he scored after picking up the ball in his half and weaving through the England defense, is considered one of the greatest World Cup goals ever.
He subsequently scored two more incredible goals in the 2-0 semifinal victory over Belgium and contributed to the thrilling 3-2 victory against West Germany. Maradona easily won the Golden Ball as the top player in the competition with his five goals and five assists.
Zinedine Zidane, France – 1998
Zinedine Zidane, a talented midfielder, served as the face of France’s 1998 World Cup, which they hosted. He got off to a strong start by assisting Christophe Dugarry on his nation’s opening goal of the competition in a 3-0 victory over South Africa.
Zidane subsequently played a key role in helping France take the lead against Saudi Arabia. However, he was later dismissed in the 4-0 triumph and missed France’s next match against Denmark as well as the nerve-wracking 1-0 extra-time victory against Paraguay in the round of 16. However, he made a strong comeback, scoring in the shootout to defeat Italy in the quarterfinals and then guiding his team to a 2-1 victory against Croatia in the semifinals.
Zidane’s performances earned him a spot in the tournament’s team of the year when he scored two headers in the final’s 3-0 victory over Brazil. He was awarded the best player at Euro 2000, which France also won, two years later.
Ronaldo, Brazil – 2002
The 1998 championship game was supposed to be Brazil striker Ronaldo’s crowning achievement. He was initially left off the starting lineup due to a seizure he had the day before the game, only to start and have no impact in the 3-0 loss against France.
His career was nearly over after suffering a catastrophic knee injury in 1999, but what came next is one of football’s most inspiring comeback tales. Ronaldo was magnificent in the 2002 tournament in South Korea and Japan, putting his horror from four years earlier behind him with eight goals in seven games.
He scored four goals in the three group games: one against Turkey (2-1), two against China (4-0), and one against Costa Rica (5-2). Then followed one in the 2-0 victory over Belgium in the round of 16, the lone goal in the 1-0 triumph over Turkey in the semifinal, and both in the 2-0 triumph over Germany in the championship. No player has since scored more goals in a World Cup than Ronaldo, although Messi and Mbappe are still in the running to do so this year.