Past plus present: 5 dream striker pairings at the World Cup

Final Italy v France - World Cup 2006
Every footballer dreams of laying hands on this trophy
Abhimanyu Singhi

The FIFA World Cup is what dreams are made of. Every professional footballer playing for his country dreams of playing in world football's biggest tournament. Some dream of laying hands on the coveted Jules Rimet trophy. Others dream of scoring that elusive goal. There is a lot of glory and pride to fight for. And you can only win matches by scoring goals.

Fans often fantasize about pairing players from different generations and creating their all-time Dream XIs. Two strikers who would together form the perfect combination for their respective teams. They would provide that cutting edge in attack and plunder goals for fun.

Let's look at 5 dream striker pairings with one player currently playing in Russia and the other from yesteryear World Cups.

#5 Thomas Muller and Gerd Muller (Germany)

Germany Training & Press Conference - 2010 FIFA World Cup
Mullers by name and World Cup winners by fame

The Mullers are not related by blood. But they have a lot in common apart from their surnames. Both have tasted World Cup success with Germany. And both have won the Golden Boot at the biggest stage of them all.

Thomas Muller comes to Russia at the back of two outstanding World Cups. In 2014 his five goals played a major part in Germany winning the trophy. He also won the Silver Ball as well as the Silver Boot in Brazil.

In 2010 also he had scored five goals as Germany finished third. In that World Cup, he won the Golden Boot and the Best Young Player of the tournament award. A return of ten goals in thirteen World Cup matches is every forward's dream come true.

Gerd Muller had already bettered that dream. In the 1970 World Cup, he scored ten goals for West Germany and won the Golden Boot. In 1974, he scored four more goals including the winning goal in the finals. 'Der Bomber', as he was fondly called, held the all-time goal scoring record for World Cups for a good 32 years before being overtaken by Brazil's Ronaldo.

The duo would make for an interesting pairing up front. Gerd Muller was surprisingly short for a footballer but unbelievably quick. As a centre-forward, he was absolutely lethal in the box and despite his height, he could out-jump most defenders. Thomas Muller, on the other hand, loves playing behind a centre-forward. His technique and tactical positioning make him most suited for this role.

So Gerd Muller would play as the number 9 or target man with Thomas Muller just behind him as the number 10.

Notable mention - Jurgen Klinsmann - He scored 11 goals in his 3 World Cups and won the title in 1990 with West Germany.

#4 Harry Kane and Michael Owen (England)

Kane is England's talisman at World Cup 2018

Harry Kane will be captaining England in his debut World Cup. He may not have many international games or goals under his belt but if club form is anything to go by - England's chances will rest on his broad shoulders. In the last four seasons, the Tottenham Hotspur hitman has scored an astounding 135 goals for his club. If England are to advance further in the knockout stages of the tournament a lot will depend on his form in front of goal.

Michael Owen, on the other hand, had a stellar international career. At the 1998 World Cup, he became England's youngest ever player at a World Cup and also the youngest ever to score a goal at the World Cup. Fans still vividly remember his amazing solo goal against Argentina in the round of sixteen match.

In the 2002 World Cup, he scored a goal each in both the Three Lions' knockout stage matches. His participation in the next edition of the tournament was cut short by an injury which also limited his club career from there on. Owen still remains the only English player to have scored in four international tournaments.

Kane and Own would make for a dynamic pairing up front. Kane is big and strong, has the ability to hold the ball up as well as move with it. Owen was diminutive in size but had frightening pace and an amazing eye for goal.

The two would play together as the forwards in a traditional 4-4-2 formation, interchanging positions and plundering goals.

Notable mentions

Gary Linker: He was the top scorer in the 1986 World Cup and the only Englishman ever to win the Golden Boot.

Geoff Hurst: He won England their first and only World Cup in 1966 scoring a hat-trick in the final, which till date remains the only hat trick in the finals.

#3 Cristiano Ronaldo and Eusebio (Portugal)

Real Madrid's Portuguese forward Cristia
Two biggest Portuguese footballers of all time

Coming into Russia 2018, Cristiano Ronaldo's record read three goals from thirteen appearances across three World Cups. In only one match in this edition, he has already matched that tally of three goals. Such is the genius of the man widely regarded as the best player of his generation.

His record at World Cups before this one can only be called an aberration. In 2006 he had the likes of Luis Figo and Deco to play with - but he himself was still a developing talent. From World Cup 2010 onwards he has been the focal point of the Portugal team with little or no support from other players. His stats would certainly read better would he have had someone like Eusebio to play alongside.

Eusebio is considered as one of the best players to have never won the World Cup. He was instrumental in Portugal finishing third at the 1966 World Cup - their best ever position and that too in their debut at the big stage. He was the highest goal scorer in that tournament with nine goals and also won the Bronze Ball award.

He was nicknamed the Black Panther for his speed and athleticism. A professional career record of 733 goals in 745 matches would be any player's envy. Unfortunately, 1966 was the only World Cup that Portugal qualified for and Eusebio did not get a second chance to shine at the biggest stage of them all.

Ronaldo and Eusebio in one team would send shivers down the spines of even the best defence in the world. They would play together in a front two with Eusebio on the right and Ronaldo on the left.

Notable mention- Luis Figo: He captained Portugal a the 2006 World Cup as they reached the semi-finals (their best finish since 1966). While not an outright striker, Figo could play on the wings with Ronaldo in the centre.

#2 Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona (Argentina)

Argentina's coach Diego Maradona (R) spe
Messi and El Diego

Lionel Messi and Diego Maradona both have a lot in common. Arguably the best players of their generations. Winners of the Golden Ball at a World Cup each. The expectations of the entire nation and fans across the globe on their shoulders. Playing in teams which were built around them to bring out the best in them.

But there is one exigent difference in their World Cup journeys where all that matters is victory. Everything else is academic. In the debate between Messi vs Maradona, the later just edges it out with his 1986 World Cup triumph with Argentina. And if Messi fails to lift the trophy in Russia, it will forever be a blot on his otherwise glorious career.

Things could have been different. In 2014 he led Argentina to the finals with his Golden Ball performance but stumbled in the game that mattered against the Germans. Maradona, on the other hand, revelled at the biggest stage. In the 1986 quarterfinal against England, he first became a villain with his 'Hand of God' goal and then turned it around completely by scoring the 'Goal of the Century' later in the same game. That World Cup will forever be remembered as Maradona's World Cup where he single-handedly won it for his team.

Despite having several star players in the national team, the pressure has always been on Messi to perform. And it seems that occasionally he has succumbed to this pressure like he did in his team's opening game against Iceland in the ongoing World Cup. Perhaps what he needs is another player of his class playing alongside him.

Can you imagine what Messi and Maradona would together do to oppositions? Tear them apart in the blink of an eye.

What positions would they play in? Well, when you have two of the most talented footballers of all time it hardly matters. They can play together anywhere in the front line and mesmerize us all with their skills and goal scoring abilities.

Notable mention - Alfredo Di Stefano: One of the most complete players ever, he is considered to be the greatest player never to have played in the World Cup despite playing international games for both Argentina and Spain.

#1 Neymar and Ronaldo Nazario (Brazil)

Brazil v Colombia: Quarter Final - 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil
Brazil's hopes crashed with Neymar's injury in the 2014 World Cup

In 2014 Brazil was hosting the World Cup after more than 60 years. Expectations were soaring high in the biggest footballing nation of the world. Fans of the Selecao craved a record sixth title. Neymar took his team to the quarterfinals. He scored a brace in two of the three round robin matches and the deciding penalty in the round of sixteen shoot out against Chile.

In the quarterfinals against Colombia, he suffered a fractured vertebra in his spine and was ruled out of the tournament. Brazil's hopes of winning on home soil came crashing down with his injury. Without Neymar, the Brazilian team lost their mojo. In the semi finals, they suffered an embarrassing and gut wrenching 7-1 defeat at the hands of eventual champions Germany.

Something similar happened in 1998. Brazil progressed to the finals with Ronaldo scoring four goals en-route. Hours before their final match against France, he suffered a mysterious convulsion. Till date no one has been able to explain what exactly happened to him. The team management didn't want to play him in the final but with medical tests diagnosing no injuries, they were forced to start with their star player.

With so much attention around this mysterious medical problem, Ronaldo was a shadow of himself and Brazil disappointingly lost 3-0 to France. However, he made amends in 2002 when he led his team to their last World Cup title with two goals in the finals. He won the Golden Shoe award for his eight goals and also the Silver Ball as the second best player in the tournament. In the 2006 edition, he broke the all time goal scoring record at the World Cup with a tally of fifteen goals which was later bettered by Miroslav Klose.

At 26, Neymar still has a shot at World Cup glory. But a team with Ronaldo as a number nine and Neymar playing as a number ten would be everyone's favourite for a win. Both have an incredible record of scoring goals and that too in the biggest matches and in the most pressure situations. What a strike partnership it would be.

Notable mention - Pele - With three World Cup titles he was perhaps the best player ever at the premier tournament. But Ronaldo would be more suitable to play alongside Neymar.

Notable mention - Romario - Helped Brazil win the 1994 World Cup with five goals and won the Golden Ball.

Edited by Amit Mishra


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