World Cup Countdown: 3 Weeks to Go - 11 of the Greatest Unsung Heroes in FIFA World Cup History - Sports Illustrated

Every four years for the last 88 years, the FIFA World Cup has created football legends. Only a tiny minority of footballers in history have ever earned the accolade of World Champions.

Yet most of those players are soon forgotten, while the few who are remembered get most of the credit. Some of them did ordinary things exceptionally well and consistently - such as England's Bobby Moore or West Germany's Franz Beckenbauer. Others - like Brazil's Pelé and Argentina's Diego Maradona - were just extraordinary.

But what about the rest of their squads? No single player ever won a major tournament on his own - not even Maradona in 1986.


Here are eleven oft-forgotten players who played vital roles in their teams' successes.

1. Goalkeeper: Marcos (Brazil 2002)


When Brazil won the 2002 World Cup, their devastating front three of Ronaldo, Rivaldo and Ronaldinho understandably received most of the plaudits.

Few people seemed to notice that their keeper Marcos only conceded four goals in the whole tournament.

He also made a string of important stops in a tight encounter with Belgium, as well as saving brilliantly from Oliver Neuville and Oliver Bierhoff in the final.

2. Right Back: George Cohen (England 1966)


When you try to remember England's World Cup winning lineup of 1966, it's easy enough to recall the likes of captain Bobby Moore, midfield ace Bobby Charlton or hat-trick hero Geoff Hurst.

It's far easier to forget Fulham right back George Cohen, and yet he played a vital role throughout the tournament. As well as defending with quiet efficiency, he regularly pushed forward to provide width and support in a side set up without conventional wingers.

3. Left Back: Julio Olarticoechea (Argentina 1986)


You wouldn't have thought that the chap standing third from left - positively dwarfed by goalkeeper Nery Pumpido - would have been effective in the air. And yet Argentina wing back Julio Olarticochea produced an astonishing defensive header to deny Gary Lineker an equaliser in La Albiceleste's quarter final clash with England in 1986.

Without Olarticochea's intervention, the two sides would likely have headed into extra time with England in the ascendancy.

4. Centre Back: Guido Buchwald (West Germany 1990)


Although Maradona was no longer as devastating as he'd been in 1986, West Germany manager Franz Beckenbauer didn't dare to take any chances in the 1990 final. He gave Guido Buchwald the unenviable task of man-marking Argentina's talisman.

Like Italy's legendary Claudio Gentile in 1982, Buchwald was imperious against Maradona, who had a match to forget - and the Germans won 1-0.

5. Centre Back: Gerard Pique (Spain 2010)


When you think of Spain's all-conquering side of 2010, former Manchester United defender Gerard Piqué isn't the first player who springs to mind. He may even be pretty low on the list.

However, Piqué's rock-solid defensive partnership with Carles Puyol was the bedrock of Spain's triumphant campaign - La Roja conceded just two goals in seven matches, which owed a great deal to Piqué's rare combination of physical prowess and technical accomplishment.

6. Defensive Midfielder: Dunga (Brazil 1994)


Despite being one of the heroes of Brazil's World Cup triumph in 1994, Dunga wasn't so much unsung as positively derided at home. For many Brazilians, the captain epitomised everything that was wrong with their side's cautious tactics.

Yet his unflappable displays in the holding midfield role gave his more creative teammates a platform to express themselves - such as the dynamic front two of Romário and Bebeto, who netted eight of Brazil's goals between them.

7. Defensive Midfielder: Clodoaldo (Brazil 1970)


The Brazil side of 1970 was arguably one of the most talented in history, with the attacking flair of Pelé and Jairzinho complemented by the midfield creativity of Gerson, Tostão and Roberto Rivelino.

Yet Clodoaldo's contribution shouldn't pass unnoticed. As well as being a calm and composed defensive midfielder (like Dunga), he was also capable of producing sublime moments of skill (unlike Dunga) - not least his stunning equaliser in the semi-final against Uruguay.

8. Central Midfielder: Giancarlo Antognoni (Italy 1982)


For fans of I Azzurri, Italy's unexpected World Cup triumph in 1982 is mostly remembered for Paolo Rossi's goalscoring exploits, goalkeeper-captain Dino Zoff becoming the oldest ever World Cup winner at the age of 40 - and, of course, Marco Tardelli's iconic celebration after scoring Italy's second in the final.

Yet, according to influential Italian football journalist Sergio Di Cesare, formerly of the Gazzetta Dello Sport, creative midfield general Giancarlo Antognoni does not get the credit he deserves. Di Cesare says: "[Antognoni] was a pillar of the team, with his intelligence, long vertical passes and understanding of football geometry."

9. RightWing: Daniel Bertoni (Argentina 1978)


In this photo, we see the great Mario Kempes celebrating his iconic second goal in the 1978 final against the Netherlands. It's easy to overlook his teammate Daniel Bertoni on the right.

Yet Bertoni combined brilliantly with his more illustrious teammate in that match, constantly tormenting the Dutch defence. He also played the final pass for Kempes' second goal and netted the decisive third himself, after Kempes had turned provider.

Bertoni made two other vital contributions in the tournament, scoring the winner against Hungary in the first round and creating Kempes' opener against Poland in the second round.

10. Left Winger: Mário Zagallo (Brazil 1958 and 1962)


Now better known as a manager than a player, Mário Zagallo was the first man to win the World Cup in both capacities - winning as a player in 1958 and 1962, as a manager in 1970 and as an assistant coach in 1994.

He was far from being the most spectacular Brazilian forward in either 1958 or 1962, yet his rare combination of creativity and industrious defensive work were key to Brazil's success, especially after losing Pelé to injury in 1962.

11. Striker: Jorge Valdano (Argentina 1986)


Even a genius like Maradona needed a foil, and Jorge Valdano fulfilled the role admirably.

As well as scoring four goals - only one fewer than his more gifted teammate - Valdano distracted opposing defences, making it even more difficult for them to contain Maradona. This was a crucial, yet often overlooked factor in Maradona's wonder goal against England.