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Footballing legends who won nothing with their country

With the news that Leo Messi is quitting the Argentina national team after losing the Copa América Centenario final against Chile, the foundations of Argentinian football have been rocked. He is not, though, the first footballing legend to abandon his country’s team without ever having won a title. Johan Cruyff He made his debut for the […]


28 de junio de 2016 - Sportyou

With the news that Leo Messi is quitting the Argentina national team after losing the Copa América Centenario final against Chile, the foundations of Argentinian football have been rocked. He is not, though, the first footballing legend to abandon his country’s team without ever having won a title.

Johan Cruyff

He made his debut for the Netherlands in September 1966 in a match against Hungary. He played in the 1974 World Cup in which the ‘Oranje‘ finished runners-up, and in the 1976 Euros. Cruyff left the national team, of which he was captain, in 1977 after making 48 appearances, and scoring 33 times, but remained trophyless.

Roberto Baggio

The Italian forward made his debut for the ‘Azzurra’ in 1988 and was capped 56 times, scoring 27 goals. He took part in three World Cups (1990, 1994 and 1998), and was on the losing side in final of the tournament held in the United States. Baggio retired from the Italy team having never lifted a trophy.

Zico

The Brazilian was capped 71 times, starting in 1976, and scored 48 times. He played in three World Cups and the 1979 Copa América. He only ever got as far as the semi-final of this tournament, in which Brazil were beaten by Perú. He left the ‘Canarinha’ in 1986, empty-handed.

Raúl González

The Spanish player made his debut for ‘la Roja’ in 1996 and took part in three World Cups, those of 1998, 2002 and 2006, the Atlanta Olympic Games in 1996, and the 2000 and 2004 Euros. His stats with the Spain team are 102 appearances made, 44 goals scored. He stopped playing for the national team in 2006, just two years before the Spain’s great run of success started.

Alfredo Di Stéfano

Owing to the double nationality he acquired after settling in Spain, the Argentinian actually played for both countries. He only wore the Albiceleste shirt for a year, and won the 1947 Copa América with the Argentinian team. Once he had moved to Spain, and after two years of red tape before obtaining nationality, he finally debuted in 1957, against the Netherlands. After almost five years and 31 caps, he retired as top scorer, with 23 goals to his name, but no titles.

Ferenc Puskás

The Hungarian player was one of the ‘Golden team’ that went to the highest spot on the Olympic podium in 1952, and that went unbeaten for 32 games in a row. In the 1954 World Cup he suffered a fracture in his ankle, but still played in the final against Germany, in which he scored his fourth goal of the tournament. The Germans won 3-2, and if the goal that Puskas had disallowed had been given, he might not have been included in this list.

Eusebio

The Portuguese player was the first great figure in his country’s football, long before Luis Figo or Cristiano Ronaldo. He only took part in the 1966 World Cup, in whch Portugal finished third. He did not savour the title, but did go down in history as the top scorer in the competition held that year in England, hitting the net no fewer than nine times.

Zbigniew Boniek

Considered the best Polish player in history, or at least the one with most recognition for a career in which he was capped 80 times and scored 24 goals. He was the great revelation of the 1982 World Cup, and with the Poland side earned a meritorious third place thanks, in part, to his four goals. His great regret always was that he never played in a European championship.

George Best

The greatest footballing talent that Northern Ireland ever produced never really shone with his national team. He made his debut at the age of 17, and was the youngest player ever to get the call up, eventually scoring a total of nine goals in 37 appearances. In neighbouring England, they always envied the Northern Irish for having such a fine player in their ranks.

David Beckham

The much-lauded English player made his first full international appearance in September 1996. From then on, until 2006, he was capped 115 times, and scored 17 goals. He played in three World Cups and two Euros, but was never anything more than a member of a team that never got past being a mere ‘candidate’.

Michael Laudrup

Both Michael and his brother Brian are the pride of Danish football. Michael was always a little more outstanding owing to his superior calibre, but the one who has a Euro winner’s medal is the younger Laudrup, since the one who played for both Real Madrid and Barcelona took no part in the 1992 in which Denmark were crowned champions. The remarkable thing is that the Danish side that won the competition had not even qualified for it, coming in late to replace the expelled Yugoslavia. Michael Laudrup did not want to play owing to certain differences he had with the coach, which meant he missed out on what ended up being the most important achievement in his country’s footballing history.

Paolo Maldini

In June 2002 he took the decision to retire from the Italian national team, after 126 appearances, being at that time the most-capped ‘Azzurra’ player ever, though Cannavaro would go past that figure in 2009. He was the longest-serving captain, coinciding with what was a barren period in terms of titles for the Italian side.

Paul Gascoigne

An international from 1988, he scored ten goals in 57 appearances. He only took part in one World Cup, in 1990, in which he played in almost all of the games until England were knocked out in the semi-final. This earned the unruly ‘Gazza’ a place in the tournament’s Best XI. He was also called up for the 1996 Euros, held on home territory, in which he only scored once, but what a goal it was! Two decades on, it is still considered one of the best goals ever in world football history. Like six years before in Italy, he was also named in the tournament’s Best XI.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

Ibrahimovic has bade farewell to his national team after Sweden were knocked out in the Group Stage of the current 2016 Euros. He has always been the star of a national team that he has dragged into the big tournaments practically single-handed. Two World Cups, those of 2002 and 2006, and four Euros, in 2004, 2008, 2012 and 2016 have given the Swede the opportunity to lift a title in the yellow shirt, but not one has finished in victory. He was always far above the level of his team-mates.

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