They came, they saw and they ever so briefly conquered at the World Cup. Here are 10 players who had their 15 minutes of fame (or 14, in one case) on the biggest stage of all.
Beauty, it seems, can also be in the eyes of the beholdee. Schillaci's eyes were the defining image of Italia 90, ablaze with fury and desire as he unexpectedly ran amok throughout the tournament. Schillaci, the center forward who started on the bench, having played only twice for Italy before the World Cup, ended up with the Golden Boot after striking six times during the hosts' stirring run to the semifinals. In Italy they still quiver at the thought of Notti Magiche di Toto Schillaci (the magical nights of Toto Schillaci). He was only 25, but after the tournament his form collapsed. He scored just one more goal for Italy, never again hit more than six goals in a Serie A season and ended up in the football backwater of Japan before his 30th birthday. The fall was even more dramatic than his rise, but few who witnessed them would forget those magical nights of Schillaci. And even fewer would forget those eyes.
No country has a pool of talent like Brazil, which makes it easy for players to emerge from nowhere -- and even easier for them to completely disappear. That was certainly true of Josimar, the tall, sinewy, stunningly athletic right back who became one of the stars of Mexico 86. The 24-year-old had never played for his country when he made his debut in the third group game against Northern Ireland, and smashed an outrageous 25-yard goal. He scored an even better one in the next game against Poland -- two sensational games in his first two appearances, and he was a fullback -- and was included in the official team of the tournament.
A star was born, but seemed intent on self-destruction. Josimar said he "just lost it" because of overnight fame: There were problems with team management and then the police, including arrests for beating up a prostitute and cocaine possession. Like Schillaci, this World Cup star would win only 16 caps for his country.
The story would eventually have a happy ending: Josimar, with help from another Brazilian right back, Jorginho, got his life back on track and now works in a soccer school in Rio. But it's hard not to wonder what might have been.
You could argue that this is a dubious inclusion -- Gascoigne won 57 caps for England and played effectively at Euro 96 -- but he was never the same player once his deranged kicking spree in the 1991 FA Cup final led to a cruciate injury from which he never truly recovered. If that was an example of Gazza's mania, a year earlier England had been in the throes of Gazza Mania, and quite right too. England's run to the semifinals was primarily fueled by Gascoigne's restless, fearless genius. He bounced through the tournament with a mischievous hyperactivity on and off the field, and saved his best for the best, dominating contests against Holland and West Germany in a way that England midfielders simply aren't supposed to do. It famously ended in tears, when a booking ruled him out of the final were England to get there. At 23, it should have been the start of a memorably tumultuous relationship in the World Cup. But with England failing to qualify in 1994 and Gascoigne going off the rails in 1998, he never played in the tournament again.
The joy of the World Cup is the way in which the haves and the have-nots mix, sometimes to the point that they are barely distinguishable. Armstong had been a reserve with second-division Watford the previous season, a 28-year-old whose career was going nowhere, but he was the best British player at Espana 82.
If the three men at the top of this list were fine players who simply lost their way, then Armstrong is the ultimate example of the World Cup's wonderful capacity to turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. He scored three goals -- including one that would change his life -- as Northern Ireland unexpectedly escaped the group stages, and covered an incredible amount of ground. Armstrong attributed his newfound running power to the weight he lost in the Spanish heat. It was heat he would have to get used to: Armstrong's legendary winning goal against host Spain led to a transfer to Real Mallorca and now, nearly 30 years on, he is a regular commentator on La Liga.
Technically, Armstrong played in two World Cups -- he came on as substitute against Brazil in 1986 -- but that was an afterthought, a reward for his unforgettable heroism four years earlier.
Next time you internally bemoan someone's ingratitude, spare a thought for Salenko. At 24, he scored five goals in one game for Russia at the World Cup -- and was never picked again. It's an extraordinary story, apparently attributable to the whims of new coach Oleg Romantsev and then Salenko's dramatic loss of form and injury troubles. He shared the Golden Boot at USA 94 even though Russia went out in the group stages, scoring once against Sweden and then five times in the pyrrhic 6-1 victory over Cameroon. Those were the only goals he scored in international football.
He may have made only three appearances for the U.S. and never even got American citizenship, but Gaetjens is deservedly enshrined in soccer folklore, having caused a major football earthquake by scoring the only goal in the incredible victory over England in 1950. He then moved to France before returning to make one appearance for his native Haiti in 1953. It was there that he was arrested by the secret police in 1964, allegedly at the behest of president François "Papa Doc" Duvalier, whose rival some of Gaetjens' family worked for. It was presumed that he was murdered soon after. Gaetjens was posthumously inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame in 1976.
Moran is the only player to make his debut in a World Cup final, but that does not tell half the story. (Technically, it was the final match of a group stage rather than the final, but for all intents and purposes it was the latter.) He was just 19 and he was playing in front of a crowd of about 200,000 at the Maracana, nearly all of whom were desperate for Moran's Uruguay to lose. It is impossible to imagine such pressure, or how he must have felt whenUruguay shocked the world by beating Brazil 2-1. Moran, a forward, won only one more cap, as a substitute during the Copa America three years later.
The lively forward started only one game at the 2002 World Cup, the essentially meaningless third-place playoff against South Korea, but he left a significant mark -- and not just because his looks, hair and style led to his being called the "Beckham of the Bosphorus." He came off the bench in every other game, scoring a superb golden goal to beat Senegal in the quarterfinals and producing a stunning flick-up against Brazil. There were two more very good goals against Korea to make him top scorer among the Turkey side that reached the semifinals. Yet a year later, at 28, he made the last of his 21 appearances before falling prey to a succession of injuries.
As paint dried, grass grew and the forgettable 1994 final between Brazil and Italy dragged on, the Brazilian substitute Viola provided the kiss of life with a memorable extra-time cameo, when he violated the previously untroubled Italian defense. They were his 14 minutes of fame. One memorable sinuous dribble in particular burned its place in the memory, leaving watchers to wonder why he had not been involved earlier in the tournament. The truth may be that he simply had fresh legs, while everyone else was on their last legs, but it's better to indulge the romantic viewpoint.
He made only two more appearances for his country, yet the evidence of his club career suggested that he was a serious talent. Brazil is never short of those, however, and he wasn't helped by an extremely short fuse that led to, among other things, an attack on a linesman and a domestic dispute involving a shotgun. For all that, it's the short, sharp shock he gave the 1994 final for which he will be remembered.
The romance of Total Football, of defenders who were equally adept in attack and vice versa, found full expression through Brandts in 1978. Brandts was a 22-year-old who had played only one game for Holland before the tournament; he came in for the first match of the second stage, against Austria, and opened the scoring after six minutes as Holland went on to win 5-1. He then scored at both ends -- the only man to do so in the World Cup -- in what amounted to a semifinal against Italy, equalizing his own-goal with a long-range shot. Brandts was part of the side that lost the final to Argentina, and two more goals straight after the tournament made it four in his first seven appearances. It was thrillingly out of character for a man who, in his club career, scored only 35 goals in more than 450 appearances. Despite those goals for his country, there was little loyalty to Brandts from the Dutch managers: He won only 23 caps over the next seven years, none of them at a major tournament.
Rob Smyth has written for The Guardian, FourFourTwo, the official Manchester United magazine, Intelligent Life and GQ Style.