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Ranking the Top All-Time Star of Each World Cup Country

Karl MatchettFeatured Columnist IVJanuary 15, 2017

Ranking the Top All-Time Star of Each World Cup Country

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    Milan/Associated Press

    The 2014 FIFA World Cup sees 32 nations take part in the month-long tournament in Brazil, with some of the finest players on the planet today set to grace the occasion.

    Many of them are legends in their own right in their respective countries, even before a ball has been kicked in Brazil 2014.

    But how many of them are the absolute best that a particular nation has produced? How many of them are within touching distance of emulating the greats of days gone by?

    The World Cup is the perfect platform for superstars not just to make a name for themselves but to write themselves into the eternal footballing history of a nation.

    Here are the biggest individuals from each of the 32 competing nations, ranked by their importance, achievements, ability and stardom throughout the world.

32. Honduras: Carlos Pavon

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    Claudio Cruz/Associated Press

    Carlos Pavon is Honduras' all-time record goalscorer, one of just four men to win a century of caps for the national side and a forward who took his talents around some of the more impressive leagues in the world game.

    He featured briefly in Serie A with Udinese and Napoli, played in Mexico and also in the United States, along with a meandering career in his homeland.

    Pavon played at the 2010 World Cup for Honduras.

31. Costa Rica: Paulo Wanchope

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    FABIAN BIMMER/Associated Press

    Central American players from the smaller nations who go on to play in major European leagues have been a relatively rare occurrence, but Paulo Wanchope certainly bucked that trend.

    The rangy striker made a name for himself in England with a number of clubs, while also playing in Spain, South America and Asia, as well as a short stint in the MLS.

    Wanchope had a terrific strike rate at international level, too, hitting 45 goals for Costa Rica, their second-highest scorer of all time.

30. Iran: Ali Daei

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    HASAN SARBAKHSHIAN/Associated Press

    The legendary Ali Daei is perhaps one of Asia's greatest players ever, certainly for his longevity and success at international level.

    The all-time record goalscorer for any country, anywhere in the world, Daei scored a staggering 109 goals for Iran during a career which spanned more than a dozen years.

    Daei spent four years in Germany, including a spell with Bayern Munich, and played at the World Cup in 2006 aged 37.

29. Algeria: Lakhdar Belloumi

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Algeria's first victories in the World Cup finals were inspired by Lakhdar Belloumi, who hit the winner against West Germany in Spain '82.

    Rated as one of Africa's finest all-time players, Belloumi scored a total of 27 goals for his national side, winning more than a century of caps.

    Belloumi played almost his entire career in his home nation.

28. Australia: Harry Kewell

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    Hassan Ammar/Associated Press

    Australian winger Harry Kewell was certainly one of the top talents in the English game for a spell, though injuries and inconsistency prevented him hitting those heights for as long as he would have liked.

    One of the last top players in an impressive international squad, Kewell retired in 2014 having been back playing in his home country.

    Playing just off the forward or wide in attack, Kewell's pace, dribbling and shooting ability made him a feared opponent at his best. He is one of only two Australian players to have won the UEFA Champions League.

27. Bosnia-Herzegovina: Edin Dzeko

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    Kerstin Joensson/Associated Press

    As a relatively new nation in footballing terms, Bosnia and Herzegovina's heroes are perhaps still being written.

    Up to this point, the biggest star and the man to have achieved most for the nation is probably Edin Dzeko, Manchester City's striker who banged in 10 goals to help his nation qualify for Brazil 2014.

    Playing at a high level, for a title-winning side in a major league and leading his nation to glory, Dzeko is perhaps a significant goal in the finals away from writing his name into Bosnian football folklore to last an age.

26. Greece: Giorgos Karagounis

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    PETROS GIANNAKOURIS/Associated Press

    Greek stalwart midfielder Giorgos Karagounis is now in the latter days of his career, but he has enjoyed a magnificent couple of decades as perhaps the most successful Greek export in the game.

    Having played for Benfica, Inter Milan and Panathinaikos, he has featured alongside some of the biggest names in the European game and kept himself in competitive leagues with his blend of ferocious desire and impressionable technique.

    He was a part of Greece's Euro 2004 title-winning team.

25. Switzerland: Stephane Chapuisat

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    Steve Morton/Getty Images

    Stephane Chapuisat was a terrific forward during the 1990s, playing most of his career with Borussia Dortmund and constantly scoring goals for club and country.

    In the latter category, he represented Switzerland more than 100 times, a bastion of quality at a time when Switzerland were once more beginning frequently to make tournament finals—he played at World Cup '94 and Euros '96 and '04.

    Chapuisat won the Champions League with Dortmund.

24. Ecuador: Alberto Spencer

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    ARIEL COLMEGNA/Associated Press

    "Magic Head" Alberto Spencer graced the Ecuador national team on only 11 occasions, though he also played for Uruguay.

    He was rated as one of South America's finest forwards in the 1960s, especially for his impressive heading ability—hence the nickname—as much as his all-round goalscoring.

    He played most of his career with Penarol in Uruguay.

23. Nigeria: Nwankwo Kanu

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    Ben Radford/Getty Images

    Nigerian talisman Nwankwo Kanu was perhaps the most successful early African to make it big in Europe, playing for Ajax and Inter Milan before spending more than a decade in England.

    The forward was unpredictable, skilful and scored plenty of goals early on in his career, while later on he was an experienced head to rely on for club and country.

    Kanu is Nigeria's third-highest capped player of all time.

22. Korea Republic: Park Ji-Sung

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    Lee Jin-Man/Associated Press

    Korea Republic have enjoyed a number of successful players making their way in Europe over the past decade or so, but Park Ji-Sung was arguably the most successful of all.

    The only Champions League winner to hail from South Korea, Park spent time at both PSV and Manchester United while also being a key component of his national team.

    He has retired this summer from football, having won exactly 100 caps.

21. Ghana: Abedi Ayew Pele

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    UWE LEIN/Associated Press

    Abedi Pele was, like Kanu, one of the earliest African players to make it big in Europe, though he arrived much earlier—1983 with Zurich was his first port of call.

    His best spell certainly came with Lille and Marseille in France, the latter side winning the Champions League and Ligue 1 with Abedi Pele being a key figure in the side.

    At international level, he won well over 50 caps for Ghana and won the AFCON with them in 1982.

20. Japan: Hidetoshi Nakata

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    Alex Livesey/Getty Images

    Japanese players might be a huge commodity in commercial as well as footballing terms, but the real pioneer of their success was undoubtedly Hidetoshi Nakata.

    A skilful midfielder who played in Italy with Perugia, Roma and Parma, Nakata was the biggest Asian star in the game during the early to mid-2000s and paved the way for many of his countrymen to taste success in Europe.

    He retired early, aged 29, but his impact on the game was a lasting one.

19. United States: Landon Donovan

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    Themba Hadebe/Associated Press

    He might not be in the FIFA World Cup squad this time around, but Landon Donovan is without doubt United States' greatest player and biggest star of all time.

    The record goalscorer for his nation, Donovan has more than 150 caps and 57 goals, both of which he may add to in the fullness of time.

    Aside from his international exploits, Donovan played in the Bundesliga and Premier League, while also having lasting success in MLS.

18. Cameroon: Samuel Eto'o

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    Michael Sohn/Associated Press

    One of the best strikers ever to come out of Africa, Samuel Eto'o has more than a century of caps for Cameroon and all-time leading scorer.

    In Barcelona and Inter Milan, he has played for two of Europe's biggest clubs, winning the Champions League with both, while a host of other domestic titles have fallen his way besides.

    At his best a pacy, direct striker with unerring finishing ability, Eto'o has evolved into a deeper, more intelligent forward with age who remains integral to Cameroon's hopes at Brazil 2014.

17. Colombia: Carlos Valderrama

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    David Cannon/Getty Images

    There are a few players synonymous with the World Cup itself and Colombia's Carlos Valderrama is certainly one.

    The fuzzy-haired midfielder was an iconic figure at Italia '90, making more than a century of appearances all told for his nation and being known both as a superb passing playmaker and an incredibly consistent player overall.

    He played in both Europe and MLS, being one of the first successful foreign players to infiltrate the US league.

16. Belgium: Enzo Scifo

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    Diether Endlicher/Associated Press

    Belgian schemer Enzo Scifo was one of the most gifted players in an immense national team in the late '80s and early '90s, controlling the midfield with skill and vision and offering a goal threat besides.

    Having dominated domestically, Scifo played in Serie A and Ligue 1 after leaving his home nation, showcasing his talents in top European teams and being a huge figure internationally, appearing at no fewer than four World Cup finals.

15. Uruguay: Diego Forlan

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    Richard Heathcote/Getty Images

    Still just about going, Diego Forlan has barely stopped scoring goals at any point in his career, for clubs and country.

    He is his nation's most capped player, the only man so far to amass more than a century of appearances in Uruguay's blue shirt, and was also the record goalscorer until recently.

    After a long period of down-time in Uruguayan football, Forlan has been one of those spearheading a revival over the last half a dozen years, a huge goal threat domestically for Villarreal and Atletico Madrid in particular.

14. Mexico: Hugo Sanchez

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    Thomas Kienzle/Associated Press

    Mexico have had their share of stars over the years, with one Rafael Marquez still going strong and a candidate for inclusion, but Hugo Sanchez was one of the top players in European football in his Real Madrid days.

    He didn't coincide with a strong national team era but was one of the best goalscorers in all of Europe in the late 1980s.

    Sanchez managed 29 goals in 58 caps for Mexico.

13. Ivory Coast: Didier Drogba

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    Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

    Didier Drogba has been not only an immense striker and a huge commodity for his clubs but also a paragon of improvement and progression for his nation, Ivory Coast, and indeed all of Africa.

    The powerful striker spent eight successful seasons with Chelsea, winning domestic and European titles, while also scoring the first-ever World Cup finals goal for his nation in 2006.

    Few men have made the kind of impact both on and off the field which Drogba has so far managed, as he seeks to play and score in his third successive World Cup finals.

12. Croatia: Davor Suker

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    MICHEL EULER/Associated Press

    Croatia striker Davor Suker was one of the most lethal players on the planet at the peak of his powers, scoring more than 100 goals in La Liga during the 1990s.

    A predatory striker who represented Yugoslavia at international level before the breakup of the nation, he hit six goals at World Cup '98 for Croatia and totalled 45 before retiring—far and away their highest scorer of all time.

    Suker won the league and Champions League with Real Madrid.

11. Chile: Elias Figueroa

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    Associated Press

    One of South America's greatest defenders ever, Elias Figueroa was a Chilean legend who starred throughout the late 1960s and '70s.

    A great defensive player in his own right, Figueroa's legend was sealed by his ability to run out of defence with the ball, act as a playmaker moving up the field and continue his movement to contribute in chance creation in the final third.

    Figueroa appeared in three World Cups for Chile and won close to 50 caps.

10. Russia: Lev Yashin

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    Associated Press

    One of the most revered goalkeepers of all time, Lev Yashin kept goal for club and country during the '50s and '60s, notable for his incredible penalty-saving record and his pioneering sweeper-'keeper activity.

    The winner of 78 caps for the Soviet Union and the only goalkeeper ever to win the European Footballer of the Year award, Yashin shot to prominence at the 1958 World Cup and also starred in '66, aged 36.

    He played out his entire club career for Dynamo Moscow and, to this day, remains the most memorable of all Russian stars.

9. England: Bobby Charlton

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    Associated Press

    Bobby Charlton was an attacking midfielder who was at his peak during the late 1950s and '60s, scoring a plethora of goals with his range of striking ability and capacity to break into attack from deep.

    He remains England's greatest-ever international goalscorer, hitting 49 goals, while he also won more than 100 caps for his country—including winning the World Cup in 1966.

    Charlton played close to two full decades at Manchester United and is renowned the world over as a great player in an even greater era of footballers.

8. Italy: Paolo Maldini

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    Luca Bruno/Associated Press

    As we move into the truly great footballing nations, there become more and more choices and arguments over who the greatest star is, with a number of stellar names having to be overlooked to choose merely one.

    For Italy, Paolo Maldini just gets the nod ahead of Roberto Baggio as the all-time star, with the defender featuring in an incredible 25 campaigns for AC Milan, the only club of his career, before retiring in 2009.

    A left-sided or central defender, Maldini won a host of domestic and European titles with his club, though the World Cup with Italy just eluded him on two occasions. He made more than a century of appearances for the national team, the third-highest capped player of all time.

7. France: Michel Platini

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    Anonymous/Associated Press

    Like Italy, two stand-out names battle for ultimate supremacy with France, but Michel Platini just tips the balance ahead of Zinedine Zidane.

    The Frenchman was one of the greatest players of all time, at his greatest during the 1980s for Juventus and the French national team.

    His free-kicks, goalscoring ability and huge influence on matches made him a match-winner in his own right, while he became the all-time top scorer for his nation—since surpassed—and remains the all-time scorer in European Championships finals, having scored nine times in 1984, top-scoring and helping France win the title.

6. Spain: Xavi

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    Frank Augstein/Associated Press

    Spain's recent sustained success has had many great players to thank, but Xavi Hernandez best embodies the style, substance and face to their ability and consistency.

    The Barcelona midfielder has been central to everything great about the Spanish team which has consecutively won Euro 2008, World Cup 2010 and Euro 2012, whilst also winning a dozen major titles with Barça in the process.

    Xavi will be searching for one more huge result in Brazil.

5. Germany: Franz Beckenbauer

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    Uncredited/Associated Press

    Not only one of the greatest players to have graced the game but perhaps also the most intelligent in terms of his ability to see the game progressing, Franz Beckenbauer is Germany's biggest all-time star.

    He won more than a century of caps for West Germany, winning both European Championships and the World Cup before also winning the latter as a manager for his nation.

    As a player, Beckenbauer was most famous for developing the sweeper role in Europe, using his grace on the ball, dribbling ability and vision to break forward dangerously from defence. He spent most of his career with Bayern Munich but also helped bring the American game to greater spotlight by featuring in the NASL in the late 1970s.

4. Portugal: Eusebio

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    Associated Press

    The great Eusebio, who passed away earlier this year, was one of the world's best-ever forwards.

    Blessed with immense pace and power and incredible finishing skills with either foot, his career essentially consisted of him scoring goals non-stop for Benfica and Portugal.

    Eusebio scored better than a goal per game for his club, while he was also Portugal's all-time top scorer for almost three decades, ending with 41 goals. Even 30 years after his retirement, he was still one of the most recognisable and revered figures in the game.

3. Netherlands: Johan Cruyff

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    Associated Press

    Johan Cruyff's legend is almost immeasurable in the football world; he was an integral part of one of the most memorable teams of all time, was a phenomenally gifted individual, earned great acclaim as a coach and remains influential with his teachings and tactics around the game today.

    The Dutch player—midfield, forward, wherever he needed to be—was able to match easy balance and agility with unrivalled technique, scored 33 times for the national side and as a player was a club legend for Ajax and Barcelona.

    His tactical ideals will live on far longer than most names on this list.

2. Brazil: Pele

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    Associated Press

    For many the greatest-ever player, but in any case there is no disputing the almost unparalleled ability of Brazil's Pele.

    Add to that his global renown, his influence within the game and the memories his name evokes and there can be no doubt that he is the greatest all-time star of the nation which will host World Cup 2014.

    Pele won almost a century of caps for his country, remains the top scorer by far with 77 goals and won three World Cups in '58, '62 and '70—nobody else has achieved the feat—and at club level remains the record scorer for all time for Santos.

    O Rei is not just a magnificent footballer of the '50s, '60s and '70s but an icon, an idea of what the game represents and a hero.

1. Argentina: Diego Maradona

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    CARLO FUMAGALLI/Associated Press

    What Pele is for Brazil, Diego Maradona is even more so for Argentina—and the debate can rage all day over which one is held in greater esteem the world over.

    Maradona was maybe the greatest individual player the game has ever seen, winning the World Cup single-handedly in 1986 and scoring the best goal in World Cup finals history along the way.

    He is in the top six for all-time caps for Argentina and fourth in their all-time scorers, but his impact on the game goes far beyond statistics.

    For nationals of his country, he is a saviour and a deity, for opponents he was an almost unstoppable force by fair means or foul, and for onlookers he was simply a showman, an enthralling spectacle and a genuine winner.

    His stardom is as much borne of his tendencies to ludicrous behaviour as his incomparable ability on the ball, making Diego Armando Maradona the greatest of all the greats.

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