France have been dealt another injury blow as Karim Benzema is out of the World Cup.
Benzema will become the first reigning Ballon d’Or winner to miss a world finals since Allan Simonsen’s Denmark failed to qualify for the 1978 tournament.
The ‘holders’ curse’ is now well established – Benzema had been hoping to help France end a sequence of three consecutive defending champions exiting in the first round – but Ballon d’Or victors have been no more fortunate.
In fact, stars entering a World Cup recognised as the world’s best player have never gone home with the trophy.
While Alfredo Di Stefano’s Spain, like Simonsen’s Denmark, did not qualify in 1958, Benzema is the first player to be absent through injury.
But plenty of all-time greats have suffered World Cup heartache at their peak…
Karimhas pulled out of the World Cup with a thigh injury.
The whole team shares Karim’s disappointment and wishes him a speedy recovery
— French Team (@FrenchTeam)
Eusebio lived up to his billing of being the best player in the world at the time by finishing as top scorer in the 1966 World Cup with nine goals. Thanks to the form of their star man, Portugal made quite the impact in their maiden tournament as they eliminated Brazil, who were without the injured Pele, but his penalty against England was not enough as the Selecao suffered semi-final heartbreak. The photo of a crestfallen Eusebio being led off the Wembley pitch remains iconic to this day, with the game being dubbed ‘Jogo das Lagrimas’ – the Game of Tears.
Roberto Baggio (1994)
After initially struggling to get going at USA 94 in an underwhelming group stage for Italy, Baggio finally came to life and showed why he was the world’s best in the knockout rounds. The Juventus star scored late on against Nigeria to take the game to extra time and then netted the winning goal in the additional period to set up a quarter-final with Spain, against whom he also bagged the winner. That hot streak continued with two more goals against Bulgaria in the semis, yet the tournament would ultimately end in heartbreak as he skied the decisive penalty for the Azzurri against Brazil – a miss that he has had to relive over and over since that day.
The penalty that decided the 1994final
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup)
Entering the World Cup as a true global superstar O Fenomeno – The Phenomenon – dealt with the intense pressure by scoring three times in Brazil’s run to another final, where hosts France awaited at the Parc des Princes. The showpiece is arguably best remembered more than two decades on for events prior to the match, with Ronaldo being left out of the starting line-up only to be reinstated 45 minutes before kick-off. The tale has been told countless times, though Ronaldo himself confirmed he was left out of the initial XI due to suffering a convulsion. While he won his battle to start, he could not make the impact he would have wanted as France ran out 3-0 winners in Saint-Denis.
Cristiano Ronaldo (2014 & 2018)
On the back of winning his second Champions League trophy, and the first of four with Real Madrid, Ronaldo looked in the mood to fire Portugal to a first World Cup crown. However, to say the tournament did not quite go Ronaldo and Portugal’s way would be a huge understatement. The Selecao lost 4-0 to eventual competition winners Germany in their opening match and then required a 95th-minute goal to salvage a 2-2 draw against the United States. A 2-1 win over Ghana in their final match, with Ronaldo at least getting off the mark in that game, failed to prevent Portugal from crashing out in the group stage. Portugal, European champions at the time, only fared marginally better four years later with the world’s best player in their ranks as they fell to Uruguay in the first knockout round.