For footballers, exploits at a World Cup can define an entire career – in the space of just a few weeks.
Success will see them held up as heroes. National adoration will be theirs, and the memories created will live in the memory of fans for life. But a number of big names over the years have had to really overcome the odds to succeed on world football’s biggest stage.
With that in mind, here are six footballers who did just that…
The 2002 World Cup was one to remember for David Beckham personally, as he laid his demons from four years before to rest.
England’s number seven clinched the winner from the penalty spot against Argentina, in what turned out to be the only goal of the game. It was a strike which sealed the win over the side who he had been sent off against four years prior.
Beckham then proved vital in the Three Lions’ run to the World Cup quarter finals.
In similar chronology to Beckham, Ronaldo also overcame the odds when 2002’s edition of the World Cup rolled around. The mesmeric striker bagged a brace against Germany in the final that year; a remarkable feat considering he was up against a side who had conceded just once en route to the final.
Ronaldo, in doing so, also won the Golden Boot with eight goals. He undoubtedly put his 1998 woes behind him that year, given the difficulties he encountered prior to that year’s final against France.
All of that was forgotten, however, as the legendary forward earned his country a record fifth World Cup success, etching his name into the history books in the process.
Thierry Henry went into the 2006 World Cup as one of the best forwards in football. He was on fire for Arsenal, and won the World Cup with France back in 1998 – as well as the European Championships two years later.
Henry and France, however, were looking to make up for their ‘no show’ four years prior to the 2006 tournament, as Les Bleus saw themselves eliminated in the group stages.
He scored three goals to propel his country all the way to the final in 2006, including the winning goal against Brazil in the quarter finals, emphatically redeeming himself after his goalless showing in Japan and South Korea in 2002.
Francesco Totti ran the show for the Italians in Germany at the 2006 World Cup, as the Azzurri went all the way – beating France in the final. Roma’s popular forward recorded the joint most assists in the competition and scored the winner in his country’s last 16 tie.
The achievement was all the more special for the then 29-year-old Totti, as he had made his way into a pivotal role in the Italian national team. That was despite spending much of his playing career rejecting offers from the Milan giants and Juventus, in order to stay loyal to his boyhood club.
The World Cup final was his last game in an Italy shirt, retiring from internationals after the tournament – although he continued to play for Roma for more than a decade afterwards.
Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Giovanni van Bronckhorst scored arguably one of the best goals in World Cup history to open the scoring in the semi final win over Uruguay at the 2010 World Cup, securing a place in the final against Spain.
The legendary full back turned the Oranje fans’ opinions of him back into his favour after his red card at the previous tournament, and although he couldn’t get his country the coveted trophy, he repaired his reputation massively.
Van Bronckhorst sits fifth in the Netherlands all-time appearance list and will go down in the country’s footballing history for his valiant efforts.
It wasn’t a surprise to anybody in football when Lionel Messi single-handedly dragged his Argentina side to the final of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil, winning the Player of the Tournament award in the process, but it wasn’t always plain sailing for the little magician.
As a child, Messi was diagnosed with a growth hormone deficiency – something which would have stopped his career in its tracks had it not been for Barcelona agreeing to pay for his treatment if he came to Spain and signed for them as a 13-year-old.
It wasn’t long before he was the star of the show at the club’s legendary La Masia academy, and he soon graduated to become one of the all-time greats of the game – and one who’ll be looking to add a World Cup winner’s medal to his trophy cabinet this summer.