The ‘late heroes’ of the World Cup

The FIFA World Cup™ has a long history of players, who made few waves in the opening rounds, yet became heroes as the competition reached its crescendo. As this year’s world finals reaches the last four, we look at some of these ‘late heroes’ of past World Cups, and some names that might be added to the list at Russia 2018.

1958 – Pele

The 1958 tournament in Sweden is often remembered as Pele’s World Cup, but few people now remember that he took no part in the opening two games: an injury in a warm-up game had sidelined the 17-year-old, and instead, it was the future Italy forward Jose Altafini, who started up front for A Seleção. Pele was restored to the team for the final group game against the Soviet Union, but made little impact.

It was in the knockout rounds that O Rei exploded into life: a tense quarter-final against surprise package Wales was decided in the 73rd minute when Pele, with his back to goal, beat his man with a deft flick and twisted around to drive the ball past Jack Kelsey in the Welsh goal. That was all the extravagantly talented teenager needed: a second-half hat-trick from Pele helped Brazil to a 5-2 win over France in the semi-finals, and then came the unforgettable Final against the host nation. His two goals in that match, a brilliant chapeu and volley followed by a towering header in the last minute, heralded the arrival of a new football superstar.

1966 – Sir Geoff Hurst

West Ham United striker Geoff Hurst, later knighted, was not the forward who was ‘supposed’ to lead the 1966 England team to World Cup triumph on home turf. It was Jimmy Greaves, the Tottenham Hotspur hero, who was expected to provide the goals for the Three Lions. But Greaves failed to find the net in the opening round, and an injury kept him out of the quarter-final clash against Argentina. That tempestuous match was instead decided by Greaves’s ‘understudy’ Hurst, whose clever angled header provided the only goal.

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