Messi-2022, Maradona-1986, Ronaldo and Kahn from 2002: who has the brightest individual World Cup performance in history?


The 2022 World Cup is almost history, only the final remains to be played. The month of Qatar has given us enough reasons to admire, but probably the main question is – with whom can the game of Lionel Messi be compared?


I perfectly understand that even several players of the tournament in Qatar can argue with Messi. It is more difficult to compare with the rest: I did not find all the tournaments in the 21st century and did not study in detail every myth about the greats (I admit that the performances of Cruyff-1974, Maradona-1986, Ronaldo-2002 and Zidane-2006 are much brighter).

Leo took on a new role. Usually Messi looked like a slightly detached leader, residing in his lonely galaxy. He seemed uncomfortable being the only superstar. In 2022, the conditions contributed to even greater panic: some of the players were brought up on the genius of Messi, constantly emphasizing his exclusivity. Argentina won the title 36 years ago and are dreaming of a new one, and the Qatari dance is the final opportunity to consolidate greatness at the national level and reach out to Maradona.

Messi is incredibly beautiful and helpful. Leo breaks personal and world statistical records. His flashes organically multiply on the slightly heterogeneous tactical structure of the national team – partners plow for the sake of Messi’s creative freedom. He reciprocates: the best in goal + pass, among the leaders in created chances (both in the tournament in Qatar and in history).


Maradona-86 mastered the art of dribbling at a superhuman level. Diego set the all-time World Cup records for collected fouls and successful dribbles with 53 each. To put it in context, at the 2022 World Cup, no one made more than 21 dribbles or collected more than 20 fouls. This is not possible in modern football. There are no dribblers of this level left, and personal guardianship of such rigidity would lead to removal before the break. Maradona, on the other hand, transformed the hellish conditions in which he was placed into a weapon for his team.

Coach Carlos Bilardo adapted the entire team to Diego’s brilliant dribbling and even forbade midfielders to run forward to celebrate goals (you need to save energy to plow for Maradona). It is simply impossible to imagine a more individually striking leadership. In this role, Maradona was grandiose – for the tournament he was turned off only for two halves (maximum).


Uruguay came to the 2010 World Cup after total failures: they got to only one championship out of four, and even there they did not leave the group (the Asian tournament of 2002). At the same time, the Uruguayans climbed into the top 4 of the America’s Cup four times, and once even won the title.

In 2006, the team was led by Oscar Tabares – and led it to the first semi-final at the World Cup in 40 years. In many ways, this was made possible thanks to Diego Forlan. At the 2010 World Cup, Forlán won the goal scoring race and also won the tournament’s best player award.

Uruguay had no problems with the attack (Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani came out next to Forlan, who reached Qatar), but it was Forlan who was the leader (and when Diego Lugano did not play, he was also the captain).

Ronaldo 2002

World Cup 2002 is my first conscious and probably the most painful. It was very hard for me to go through the relegation of the Russian team, then I was no less sad because of the relegation of England. I still can’t forgive Ronaldinho for that free kick, how he upset me!

There were four teams left – and it was clear that Germany would play Brazil in the final. At that time I still dreamed of becoming a professional goalkeeper, and Oliver Kahn was one of the landmarks. In the final, he was rooting for Germany – and not just sympathized, but really experienced with all his heart and passed everything through himself.

I was 12 years old – I didn’t really understand what injuries Ronaldo had experienced, what his story was. In his head, he was some kind of supervillain that no one can ever stop. Turkey’s goal was especially ingrained in my memory, when he traditionally gathered half a team around him and gracefully poked into the corner.

I watched the final at the dacha in goalkeeper gloves and with the ball in my hands. And every time Kahn took the ball in his hands, I repeated after him. I was very charged with the energy of that game. I looked at the German and felt that he was the top, that he would not miss, that Ronaldo was finally at least someone slowing down.


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