Five FIFA World Cup™ winners kicked their last ball professionally in 2017. Here are some memorable goals, stats and quotes in homage to the all-time greats.
*Xabi Alonso *International career: 11 years (2003-14)
Caps: 114 (88 wins, 13 draws, 13 losses) – Goals: 16
World Cup appearances: 13 (9 wins, 4 losses) – Goals: 2
A strike to remember **Xabi Alonso had never taken a penalty in his career. But when Liverpool were awarded one in the UEFA Champions League final in 2005 – one which would have turned a three-goal deficit into 3-3 – he boldly stepped up. Alonso’s low effort was pushed wide by Dida, but he did brilliantly to react rapidly and hook the ball over the Brazilian and into the roof of the net. Liverpool went on to win the shoot-out, though Rafa Benitez didn’t allow Alonso to take one in it.
*Two successive goals from inside his own half is what Alonso is the only professional footballer to have scored. The Spaniard netted from 65 yards against Luton Town, and then later in 2006 from 70 yards against Newcastle United.
*Steven Gerrard: “What a fantastic player. The best passer of a ball I’ve ever played with. You deserve all the accolades you get. What a special career for club and country. I’m very jealous of the World Cup winner’s medal, league titles in Germany and Spain. But you deserve it, mate. I couldn’t have asked for a better midfield partner. When you left it broke my heart, but you’re always welcome to visit.”
International career: 10 years (2004-14)
Caps: 113 (82 wins, 18 draws, 13 losses) – Goals: 5
World Cup appearances: 20 (15 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses) – Goals: 1
A strike to remember *
The atmosphere was electric when Germany 2006 kicked off. It was electrified just six minutes later. There appeared zero danger when a supposedly non-threatening player collected possession in a non-threatening area. The Germany left-back nevertheless jinked inside Gilberto Martinez and Michael Umana – he left the latter on his backside – and thundered a sensational strike in off the post to get a memorable *Mannschaft campaign going.
*Three World Cup All-Star Teams is what Lahm is one of only three players in which to feature. Djalma Santos and Franz Beckenbauer are the others.
*Dirk Nowitzki, NBA legend: “Congratulations on your great, great career. International and national – you’ve won everything. You’re a World Cup winner too. So you can be super proud of everything you’ve achieved.”
International career: 14 years (2002-16)
Caps: 92 (65 wins, 18 draws, 9 losses) – Goals: 29
World Cup appearances: 10 (8 wins, 2 losses) – Goals: 1
*A strike to remember *
Kaka wasn’t facing goal when the ball was played in to him, just outside the Argentina box. But an immaculate first touch enabled him to shoot, which he did marvellously into the top corner in Brazil’s unforgettable 4-1 victory in the FIFA Confederations Cup 2005 final.
*10 million followers on Twitter is what Kaka became the first sportsperson to reach in 2012. He was followed by Cristiano Ronaldo and Lebron James.
*Neymar: Congratulations on the trajectory, brother. I’m proud to have been part of your career. You are a great example for me.”
International career: 13 years (2002-15)
Caps: 116 (58 wins, 38 draws, 20 losses) – Goals: 13
World Cup appearances: 11 (6 wins, 2 draws, 3 losses) – Goals: 1
A strike to remember
*There was significant pessimism surrounding Italy when Germany 2006 kicked off. Pirlo lifted them 40 minutes into their curtain-raiser against Ghana, thundering a bullet into the bottom corner – aided by a lightning Alberto Gilardino duck – to set Gli Azzurri *en route to glory.
*Pirlo sensationally completed more passes than all four England midfielders not only in the UEFA EURO 2012 quarter-finals, but also in their Brazil 2014 opener. He helped Italy finish the latter match having completed 93.19 per cent of their passes, setting a record since 1970 (Denmark had held it having managed 92.72 per cent against Uruguay in 1986.
*Mario Balotelli: “Unique, inimitable. I had the honour of playing with you. Thanks for everything Andrea. PS: for me you could still play for ten years.”
International career: 8 years (1998-2006)
Caps: 58 (33 wins, 16 draws, 9 losses) – Goals: 9
World Cup appearances: 11 (6 wins, 3 draws, 2 losses) – Goals: 1
*A strike to remember
*Totti was a chip lord, but this one was a beauty even by his towering standards: a 25-yard dink over Angelo Peruzzi that sealed Roma’s 5-1 victory at arch-rivals Lazio – the biggest win in the fixture in 69 years – in 2002.
*The stat *
40 years and 243 days is the age that makes Totti the tenth-oldest player and oldest attacking player to appear in Serie A. The top five are goalkeepers, while positions six to nine are occupied by defenders.
*The quote *
Diego Maradona: "At his best, Totti was the world's number one player."
Totti: “Now that Maradona has said I was the best player he's seen in his life, I can retire!”