The best thing about the World Cup is that you get to see all the best players from around the globe in one place. But while the likes of Brazil’s Ronaldo, Zindine Zidane and most recently Kylian Mbappe have all risen to the occasion to help their respective countries win the famous trophy, not everybody seems to carry the weight of their nation on their shoulders quite as impressively.
With the ongoing World Cup in Qatar likely acting as the final edition of the tournament for some of this generation’s best players, now seems like the perfect time to take stock of a few players coming to the end of their respective careers that haven’t performed as well at World Cups as they perhaps would have liked.
Arguably hindered by not having players of his immense quality around him, Robert Lewandowski didn’t make his first appearance at a World Cup until four years in Russia — a decade after he earned his first cap for Poland.
However, it was a tournament to forget as the White and Red finished bottom of a group they were expected to get out of — losing to Senegal and Colombia before securing a consolation win over Japan. Lewandowski failed to score in all three.
The 34-year-old had the chance to break his duck in Poland’s opening game of this tournament, but his spot kick was saved by Guillermo Ochoa — pretty much summing up Lewandowski’s luck at the World Cup. He did manage to score his first goal against Saudi Arabia, but unfortunately, it’s unlikely that we will see the prowess of Lewandowski at another renewal of the tournament.
It seems unfair to include Cristiano Ronaldo in this list when you consider his flashes of brilliance on the World Cup stage, most notably his hat-trick in the 3-3 draw against Spain in 2018, but modern football is a numbers game — which CR7 is usually the master of.
However, while he’s scored over 800 goals for club and country, his World Cup record is not that impressive — scoring eight times and assisting just twice in 18 appearances, and remember, almost half of those strikes came in that aforementioned game against Spain.
One goal at each of the 2006, 2010, and 2014 editions when amongst the favorites in the World Cup golden boot odds leaves a lot to be desired from one of the best players to ever grace the game, so here’s hoping Ronaldo can step up to the mark this year in a similar fashion to four years ago (when he netted four times in total) for what will be his last ever World Cup — he got off the mark with a penalty against Ghana, his third goal from the spot at World Cups.
If we’re going to include Ronaldo, it’s only fair we take a look at his old rival Lionel Messi — whose World Cup record is slightly better (eight goals & six assists in 21 games), but still leaves you wanting more from the little magician.
Messi’s maiden appearance at the World Cup was in 2006, and he burst onto the global stage with a goal and an assist in a 16-minute cameo against Serbia and Montenegro but didn’t register a goal or assist again in his other two outings. The 2010 World Cup was particularly disappointing, as he contributed with just one assist and no goals.
Four years later in Brazil, it looked like it could be his year — netting three goals in an easy group against Bosnia, Iran and Nigeria. He got the assist as Argentina beat Switzerland 1-0 in the round of 16, but did little as La Albiceleste went on to lose the final 1-0 to Germany — a game in particular that Messi was rather disappointing in.
In 2018, Messi got just a goal and two assists as they were knocked out in the round of 16. But Argentina’s shock 2-1 defeat to Saudi Arabia this year has got to be one of the most embarrassing losses of his entire career. With two goals and an assist at the time of writing, Messi is on course to have his name taken off this list if he keeps up this fine form.