An integral characteristic of an elite athlete is their ability to come up with the goods at the most crucial junctures of a match or tournament. Be it Maradona for Argentina and Napoli, or Pele in his time in Brazil, every footballer regarded among the greatest-ever in the sport had the ability to come up trumps in such big matches.
Apart from the aforementioned duo, the likes of Xavi, Andreas Iniesta, Didier Drogba and Steven Gerrard have enhanced their reputation with clutch performances in some of club and international football's biggest games.
Today, we take a look at the five best big-game players in world football right now.
#5 N'Golo Kante
The World Cup winner has established himself as the best holding midfielder in world football following a stellar 2020-21 campaign.
N'Golo Kante showcased his big-match pedigree on plenty of occasions last season, playing a crucial role in Chelsea's Champions League glory. The Frenchman was arguably at his best in the return leg against Real Madrid in the semi-finals. Kante was effectively Chelsea's "one-man midfield" and dominated play almost single-handedly in the middle of the park. This was no mean feat against the multi-time Champions League-winning midfield trio of Kroos, Modric and Casemiro.
Kante was adjudged as the Player of the Match in both legs of the semi-finals and would go on to deliver another masterclass in midfield against Manchester City in the all-important finals. In an extremely tight encounter decided by Kai Havertz's 42nd-minute strike, N'Golo Kante functioned as the engine room for the Blues.
Even though Manchester City controlled 61% of possession, they never really managed to consistently threaten Mendy's goal. Kante played a significant factor in this as he repeatedly shut down the Cityzens' attacks with exceptionally well-timed tackles and jaw-dropping interceptions.
The Frenchman was equally dominant in big games when he used to don the blues of Leicester, playing an indispensable role in the Foxes' first top-flight English title.
#4 Jamie Vardy
Jamie Vardy is arguably the most inspirational story in English football, working his way up from non-league football in 2011 to the pinnacle of English football just five years later. The bumpy road to success has undoubtedly contributed to Vardy's steely mental resolve, which shines through when he takes on the "big boys" of English and European football.
The Englishman's record against the "Big Six" of English football speaks volumes of his big-match pedigree. Some of Vardy's best performances have transpired against members of the big six. The 34-year has enjoyed his most successful scoring record against Arsenal, registering 11 goals in 13 appearances along with an assist to his name.
Vardy will also count Manchester City among his favorite opponents, as he has racked up a tally of nine goals and three assists against the Cityzens. Like any other elite athlete, Vardy elevates his game when he faces off with the big boys at the biggest stages of world football, such as Old Trafford, Anfield and Stamford Bridge, to name just a few.
In 15 appearances against Tottenham, Vardy was involved in 13 goals (eight goals, five assists), adding to the nine-goal involvement (eight goals, one assist) against Liverpool in 13 appearances. One of Vardy's most memorable goals was against Manchester United at Old Trafford, when he broke the record for scoring in consecutive Premier League games (11 matches).