BOGOTA – World Cup tournaments have always been stages for soccer’s greatest players to cement their legacies.
Pele became a living legend on June 21, 1970, when Brazil defeated Italy 4-1 in the 1970 World Cup final at Estadio Azteca in Mexico City and he established himself as the only player to win soccer’s premier event three times.
In the 1986 World Cup final, played at that same venue on June 29, the world witnessed a new coronation when 25-year-old Diego Maradona led Argentina to its second world title with a 3-2 win over West Germany and took his place alongside Pele at the pinnacle of the sport.
Other past greats achieved soccer immortality at the World Cup.
Obdulio “El Negro Jefe” (The Black Chief) Varela emboldened his teammates and led Uruguay to one of the biggest upsets in the tournament’s history – a 2-1 victory over Brazil at Rio de Janeiro’s Maracana Stadium on July 16, 1950.
Brazil’s Garrincha and Argentina’s Mario Kempes also achieved legendary status with their tournament-winning performances at the 1962 and 1978 editions, respectively.
But two of soccer’s greatest all-time players, Johan Cruyff and Lionel Messi, came out on the losing end in World Cup finals and – fairly or not – saw their legacies take a hit as a result.
Led by Cruyff (1947-2016), the Netherlands reached the final of the 1974 edition but ending up losing 2-1 to Franz Beckenbauer and West Germany.
Messi was the key man for Argentina four years ago, but Germany lifted the trophy for the fourth time by topping the Albiceleste 1-0.
Both Cruyff and Messi were named the top players of those respective tournaments, but alas there is no substitute for leading one’s team to the promised land.
Messi, soon to turn 31, will have another chance to do so at the 2018 World Cup, which is now just one day away from kicking off with a match between host Russia and Saudi Arabia.