After talking plenty on what to expect in the 2018 world cup, let’s go back in time and look at 4 of the best individual performances we’ve seen in the modern era of world cups. This competition gives a platform for players to show the world what they can offer. It has given players, managers, and fans some memorable moments. Let’s look at the players who have given them these memories.
Diego Forlan is a perfect example on how some players just don’t work in some leagues. While United fans remember him in a fond way, with his famous brace at anfield, the rest of the premier league thought his time in England was a forgettable one. But that was until his move to Villarreal, which transformed the forward. He was absolutely brilliant in the 2004-05 season, where he won the award for most goals scored in La Liga, scoring an incredible 25 in 38, which also was the joint highest in Europe, sharing it with Thierry Henry. In fact he was the last player to win the Pichichi award before Messi and Ronaldo won it for 10 years straight, up until Forlan’s international team mate Luis Suarez broke ended their reign of goals in 2015-16. Forlan however did drop off in his next two season, but he wasn’t to blame for that. The Yellow Submarine did have many changes in the following season, including players and managers. He did score 19 in his last season, before his move to Atletico Madrid. He led the line brilliantly for Atleti. Scoring 23 in his debut season, and creating a deadly partnership with a young Sergio Aguero. In his following season, he won the Pachichi award again with a ridiculous 32 in 33 games. In the season leading up the World Cup in South Africa, he scored 28 in all competitions as Atletico Madrid won the Europa League. Forlan went into the world cup in great form, and among one of the deadliest forwards to watch, with David Villa, Wayne Rooney, Drogba and Robben, all in great form leading up to the World Cup. Forlan was easily the best forward at the competition. He scored a solid 5 goals in 7 games, with his incredible volley against Germany winning him the goal of the tournament. He partnered a young Luis Suarez and showed him a real striker’s performance. He captained the side in every sense of the word. He would drop deeper to to retrieve the ball, he would take the short free kicks, which lead to another brilliant goals against Ghana, and was still able to show his great ability in the box. His moments of magic even helped him equal a record for most goals scored outside the box, with three. Forlan carried that Uruguay side, winning the game with 2 goals against the host nation, scoring against Ghana to take the game to penalties, and almost won the final game against Germany. He won the golden ball for the tournament, and will go down as one of the most spectacular performances in World Cup history.
Italy went into this tournament in a very peculiar way, right after the Calciopoli Scandal. Many teams in playing in Serie A, including Juventus, AC Milan, Fiorentina and Lazio, were all accused of match fixing, painting a very negative image of Italian football. They were the villains of football and the expectations for the Gli Azzurri were very low. The whole country’s morale was at an all time low, but all that changed. Italy showed the world that they are still an excellent team, despite all of the negativity surrounding them. They went into Germany full of league winning players. The best goalkeeper of all time in Gigi Buffon, a brilliant midfield in Gattuso and Pirlo, and brilliant forwards in Del Piero and Francesco Totti. While all of these components were brilliant, it was the defence that stole the show. Italy have always been known for their solid defenders. The likes of Nesta, Baresi, and Maldini all will be remembered as some of the best in their positions. But the one I will be highlighting is a certain Fabio Canavarro. Canavarro was an ever stay in Serie A. He begin at Napoli as a youth player, before moving on to Parma in 1995 and making over 200 appearances, forming a brilliant defensive partnership with Buffon and Lillian Thuram, before a big move for €23m to Inter Milan in 2002. His time at Inter however was not as successful. His first season was relatively successful, finishing runners up to Juventus and getting to the semi finals of the champions league. However his second season was not as successful. Cannavaro struggled with injuries, and when fit was playing out of position. All this factored into the Italian looking back at his time at Inter as a failure. After 2 season he then went on to Juventus, which brought life back into Cannavaro. He won defender of the year in both of his seasons in Turin, and in his second season won player of the season. Cannavaro went into this tournament in his peak, and showed the rest of the world why he was the best defender in Italy. Italy through out the tournament only conceded 2 goals, one against Mexico, and the other against France in the final. In fact his performances against France and Germany were some of the best performances from a defense in history. He commanded his back line with such authority, and went into every single tackle as if the game depended on it. His leadership and ability to lead from the back gave Italy the confidence and motivation to get to the final and win the whole thing. The confidence and form of the captain showed with him overcoming his weakness, his height. Cannavaro is actually quite small for a centre half. Standing at just 5’9, he is at a real disadvantage compared to other defenders, but when watching him play in those last two games, you would have never known. He was still winning the ball from two touch opponents in Klose and Henry. He was able to still keep those two out. He ended that year with not only a World Cup, but also the Balon d’Or. He was by far the best performer of the tournament and one of the best defenders of the 2000s.
Ronaldo will always go down as one of the best footballers of all time, while also going down as a player who didn’t quite hit his peak. If he didn’t suffer those severe injuries at Inter Milan, he would have easily went down as the best footballer of all time. It’s very fascinating to look back at his career. He actually was in the world cup winning squad of 94, but because of his age, didn’t get a look in. He then arrived in Holland to play for PSV, which began his goalscoring greatness. He scored a whopping 42 goals in 46 games. After 2 seasons, he then left for Barcelona in 1996, where his career really kicked off. He was only 20 when he arrived, and in his only season there he scored 34 in 37 games. He then left for another challenge, Inter Milan. He arrived for a world record fee of $27m. His time at Inter was a clear success, scoring 49 in 68. This was the start of a clear issue for R9, being his injuries. In his youth he was a fast, explosive and powerful player, who could tear apart any single defence in the world. At Barca and his early years at Inter, he was a complete forward. He was able to hold the ball up, able to drift out wide to stretch a defence, or even stay on the last man. But those two knee injuries will go down as some of the most shocking moments in football. A player with that much talent, and with limitless potential, was given a barrier that he couldn’t break. That isn’t to doubt him as a player, in fact he was still a world class player, but not at the same level as he was. Ronaldo ended the tournament with 8 goals, with 2 in the final. The best way to compare both young Ronaldo and older Ronaldo, is his performances in the 98 world cup and the 2002 world cup. In the former, he was at his best. He was using all of his best assets, being his pace, power and explosiveness. While at the 2002 world cup, he had to play more reserved and use his brilliant movement and time his movement perfectly. One plus for Ronaldo was having Rivaldo next to him, it meant Ronaldo didn’t have to focus on connecting midfield to attack, he could just stay central and wait for talented players like Ronaldinho and Carlos to gift him the perfect ball, which worked. The connection between R9 and Ronaldinho was amazing in the final. On so many occasions, Ronaldinho would see the perfect run made by Ronaldo and gift him a great ball. That first goal summed up classic Brazil, with Ronaldo giving one brilliant finish. The ground Ronaldo made for that second goal, to get on the end of Kahn’s mistake, was perfect once again. Ronaldo transformed his game so effectively in that world cup, and proved while he might not be as explosive, he was still just as talented in front of goal as ever.
And finally the one player who is still currently playing at the top level. James Rodriguez is one of the only players to have his career completely transform after the world cup. Before the cup started, football experts new the ex Porto midfielder very well, after his big money move to Monaco. But both of those clubs do not play on the big stage, meaning many of the mainstream football audience did not have a vast knowledge on the Columbian. The difference between Rodriguez and the rest of the players on this list, is the timing of their world cups. Forlan, Ronaldo and Canavarro were all in their prime and had shown the world before how good they were. Rodriguez on the other hand was only 22. He still had his whole career ahead of him. Rodriguez won the golden boot that tournament, with 6 goals. While it doesn’t sound incredible, Columbia only reached the quarter finals, which means it’s even more impressive how good he was. Rodriguez won best player after the group stages were over. With his incredible 8 goal contributions in 2 starts, James proved that Brazil was going to be his tournament. He then scored one of the greatest goals of all time against Uruguay, with a volley so perfect, it could never be replicated. Even after all the brilliant performances he put in, he was still not able to take Columbia past a very average Brazil side. His huge influence at that tournament was exactly what Real Madrid needed. They needed a big Galactico to help remind everyone that Madrid are still the top dogs. While he stint in Madrid might not have worked out, he still averaged a goal every 3 games. He is now currently playing at Bayern Munich, where he has added an extra bit of class to a position they didn’t have many reinforcements. Let’s hope James can replicate that same form in the world cup in Russia.