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FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winners

Fri 17 June 2022 | 4:30

The Golden Ball award, which was first introduced in 1982, is meant for whoever emerges best player at each World Cup finals. Here's who has won the esteemed award at the men's FIFA World Cup.

The Golden Ball award is presented to the best player at each FIFA World Cup finals, with a shortlist drawn up by the FIFA technical committee and the winner voted for by representatives of the media.

Those who finish as runners-up in the vote receive the Silver Ball and Bronze Ball awards as the second and third most outstanding players in the tournament respectively. The current award was introduced in the 1982 FIFA World Cup, sponsored by Adidas and France Football.

Therefore, among numerous awards, the Golden Ball is given to the best player in the competition and in 2018, it went to Croatia captain, Luka Modric, despite his side's 4-2 loss to France in the final.

The award was first given out at the 1982 World Cup in Spain, when Italian

Paolo Rossi

dominated competition. Before then, a best player of the tournament was voted on, but no award was given out.

FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winners:

In this article, we look through the journey that the last 10 “Golden Ball” winners took during their peak performances in football’s biggest and most important tournament. Brazil, Argentina, and Italy each have the

most “Golden Ball” winners

.

Paolo Rossi (Italy) – Spain World Cup, 1982

The first FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winner is Paolo Rossi who is a legendary striker in Italian football history and one of the reasons is his fantastic performances in the 1982 World Cup. Although Rossi initially had a poor performance in the first group stage.

Italian journalists and Tifosi lamented that he was in very poor shape, however, and this view seemed to be confirmed by Italy's appalling performance in the three group matches, in which he was described as a "ghost aimlessly wandering over the field".

Italy manager Enzo Bearzot, however, staunchly confirmed Rossi for the decisive round-robin in the second round, in which his team was to face

Argentina

, the reigning World Champions, and Brazil, the favorites to win the title with a team consisting of world-class players such as Sócrates, Zico, and Falcão.

Italy defeated Argentina 2–1, thanks to the brilliant defensive work that shut down the young Argentine star Diego Maradona. In the next game, Rossi scored a hat-trick to defeat Brazil 3–2 to qualify for the semi-finals.

In the semi-final match against

Poland

, Rossi's two goals won the match for Italy once again, granting them a place in the 1982 World Cup final. In the final against West Germany, Rossi scored the first of Italy's three goals, from an indirect set-piece assist from Gentile, helping Italy win the match 3–1, giving his team their third World Cup title.

With six goals in total, he won the tournament's “máximo goleador” award, the Golden Boot, as the top scorer of the tournament, as well as the “Golden Ball” award for the best player of the tournament, and he was named as part of the team of the tournament for the second consecutive time. Italian fans hung banners proclaiming him "Man of the match".

Rossi's accomplishments in Spain gained him the title of European Footballer of the Year and World Player of the Year in 1982. His goalscoring exploits during the tournament earned him the nicknames "Pablito" and the "torero". Between his goals and assists throughout the tournament, Rossi was directly responsible for 58% of his team's goals during the 1982 World Cup.

Diego Maradona (Argentina) – Mexico World Cup, 1986

Another legendary player on the list of the

FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winners

is

Maradona

. He captained the Argentine national team to victory in the 1986 World Cup in Mexico, winning the final in Mexico City against West Germany. Throughout the tournament, Maradona asserted his dominance and was the most dynamic player in the competition.

He played every minute of every Argentina game, scoring five goals and making five assists; three of the assists came in the opening match against South Korea. Argentina eliminated Uruguay in the first knockout round, setting up a match against England at the Azteca Stadium.

After scoring two contrasting goals in the 2–1 quarter-final win against England, his legend was cemented. The majesty of his second goal and the notoriety of his first led to the French newspaper L'Équipe describing Maradona as "half-angel, half-devil".

Replays showed that the first goal was scored by striking the ball with his hand. Maradona was coyly evasive on the matter, saying it was partly the "Hand of God." 

Maradona's second goal, just four minutes after the hotly disputed hand-goal, was later voted by FIFA as the greatest goal in the history of the World Cup.

He received the ball in his own half, swiveled around, and with 11 touches ran more than half the length of the field, dribbling past five English outfield players before he left goalkeeper Peter Shilton on his backside with a feint, and slotted the ball into the net.

Maradona followed this with two more goals in a semi-final match against Belgium, including another virtuoso dribbling display for the second goal.

In the final match, West Germany attempted to contain him by double-marking, but he nevertheless found the space past the West German player

Lothar Matthäus

to give the final pass to Jorge Burruchaga for the winning goal.

Argentina beat West Germany 3–2 in front of 115,000 fans at the Azteca with Maradona lifting the World Cup as captain. During the tournament, Maradona scored or assisted 10 of Argentina's 14 goals (71%), attempted or created more than half of Argentina's shots, attempted a tournament-best 90 dribbles, and was fouled a record 53 times.

By the end of the World Cup, Maradona went on to win the Golden Ball as the best player of the tournament by unanimous vote and was widely regarded to have won the World Cup virtually single-handedly.

Salvatore Schillaci (Italy) – Italy World Cup, 1990

Salvatore Schillaci might be the only name on our list that you need to look up. He was never a top player in his clubs, nor was he a genuine star.

He was the surprise star of the 1990 FIFA World Cup, as he helped Italy to a third-place finish on home soil. Coming on as a substitute in Italy's first game, Schillaci went on to score six goals throughout the World Cup, claiming the Golden Boot as the leading goalscorer and receiving the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament ahead of established stars Lothar Matthäus and Diego Maradona, who came second and third, respectively.

Schillaci replaced Andrea Carnevale during Italy's first match against Austria. He scored the decisive goal as the match ended with a 1–0 win for Italy. He scored another goal against Czechoslovakia in the last group match.

He repeated his goal against Uruguay in the round of 16, as Italy repeated another 2-0 win. He scored the winning goal in the quarterfinals. It was after this goal that the people of Italy started to give him the nickname “Totò” (Young one).

For the semi-final match against defending champions Argentina, Schillaci kept his place in the team. The match ended 1–1, with Schillaci scoring his fifth goal of the tournament, but Italy was eliminated after a penalty shoot-out.

After setting up Baggio's opening goal, Schillaci scored the winning goal in Italy's 2–1 win in the third-place match against

England

from a penalty, and won the Golden Boot, with six goals, as well as the Golden Ball Award for the best player of the tournament.

Romário – USA World Cup, 1994

At the 1994 World Cup held in the United States,

Romário

partnered with Bebeto in attack to lead his country to a record fourth World Cup title. Romário scored five goals in the tournament: one in each of the three first-round matches, against Russia, and Cameroon, and a trademark toe-poke finish against Sweden.

He scored one against the Netherlands in the quarterfinals; and the game-winning header against Sweden in the semifinals. Although he did not get on the scoresheet in the final in Los Angeles against Italy, a game played in searing heat which ended as a goalless draw, he converted Brazil's second penalty in the shoot-out, which ended in a 3–2 win for Brazil.

Romário won the World Cup Golden Ball as the most valuable player of the tournament and was named to the World Cup All-Star Team. Romário is also the last player to have won the Golden Ball and the World Cup in the same tournament.

Ronaldo – France World Cup, 1998

Il fenômeno scored four goals and made three assists en route to the final in his first experience at the World Cup.

Ronaldo

started his scoring in the 98 World Cup against Morocco in the second group match.

A beautiful through ball came from Leonardo, and Reynaldo managed to escape the offside trap by inches, and before the ball lose its height, Ronaldo scored a half-volley into the back of the net.

He continued the scoring in the round of 16, where Brazil was against Chile. He scored the first goal in the extra time of the first half from the penalty spot oh, and he scored the second goal, the 4th for Brazil in that game, with a pass that came from Rivaldo in the middle and the Rinaldo scored the goal with a powerful shot that seemed to have gone through the goalkeeper.

Although playing for 90 minutes in the quarterfinal match against Denmark, Ronaldo didn't score but helped his team as Brazil passed by the Danish men 3-2.

In the semi-finals, Reynaldo showed his genius once again and scored a goal at the beginning of the second half from a cross by Rivaldo, also netting Brazil's first penalty in the 4–2 shoot–out victory.

He played every minute of every game up until then but he became very ill before the final match. Hours before the final against France, Ronaldo suffered a convulsive fit. At first, he was removed from the starting lineup 72 minutes before the match.

However, shortly before kickoff, after pleading that he felt fine and requested to play, Ronaldo was reinstated by Brazil coach Mário Zagallo. Reporters state that Ronaldo "sleepwalked" through the final, which also saw him injured in a collision with French goalkeeper

Fabien Barthez

.

Zagallo admitted the fears over Ronaldo affected his team psychologically, and stated "for the whole of the first half I was wondering whether to take him off", but feared a public outcry in Brazil had he done so. Brazil lost the match to hosts France 3–0.

Ronaldo later reflected, "We lost the World Cup but I won another cup – my life." Nevertheless, he took the “Golden Ball” home for the 1998 World Cup, but he had to wait 4 more years to take home the FIFA World Cup trophy.

Oliver Kahn – Korea/Japan World Cup, 2002

Despite Germany's comparatively low expectations when for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, the team advanced to the finals;

Kahn

conceded only three goals in the course of the competition, two of which were in the Final.

Playing the final match with torn ligaments in his right ring finger, Kahn conceded the first goal by fumbling a rebounded shot from Rivaldo to the feet of striker Ronaldo in the 67th minute.

Once the game was over with Brazil as the new champion, he stood alone and was disappointed in his goal; nevertheless, he refused to blame his injury for his mistake.

"There is no consolation. It was the only mistake I made in seven games and it was brutally punished" taken from Oliver Kahn's statements after the final of the 2002 World Cup.

The FIFA Technical Study Group awarded him with the Lev Yashin Award for the best goalkeeper of the tournament, while also edging out tournament top scorer Ronaldo to receive the Golden Ball for the best individual performance.

Kahn is the only goalkeeper in World Cup history to win the Golden Ball, and also became the first German goalkeeper to keep five clean sheets in a World Cup tournament.

Zinedine Zidane – Germany World Cup, 2006

Zinedine Zidane

is rightfully among the

FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winners

. Many people compare Zidane’s 2006 World Cup performance to the Salvator Mundi painting, the last painting of Leonardo da Vinci; simple, magical, heavenly. Zidane, just like France, I struggled in the group stage.

Zidane was punished with a yellow card in both first matches of the tournament. Thus, he was suspended for the third one. He was faced with a lot of criticism after those 3 games and Zidane felt the necessity to respond to these criticisms, and respond he did.

Zidane returned to set up a goal for

Patrick Vieira

and score one himself in the round of 16 matches against Spain, as France crushed the Spaniards' hope to win the World Cup with a 3-1 win. In the quarter-final, France held Brazil to just one shot on goal in the rematch of 1998 final.

Zidane assisted Thierry Henry's deciding goal and was named Man of the Match by FIFA. During the game, he dazzled Brazilian players, and frankly the whole world, so much that even Brazil fans started to applaud him afterward.

France faced Portugal in the semi-final and, as in Brussels six years earlier, Zidane's penalty kick decided the contest and sent France to a back-to-back World Cup final.

Having already announced he was to retire after the expiration of his Real Madrid contract at the end of the 2005–06 season, the world of football already knew Zidane's second World Cup final was to be the last match of his career.

Seven minutes into the 2006 World Cup final in Berlin, Zidane put France ahead with an outrageous Panenka-style penalty kick which struck the crossbar and bounced just over the goal line to become only the fourth player in World Cup history to score in two different finals.

The penalty is, to this date, one of the craziest moments that happened in any World Cup. He almost scored a second goal during the first period of extra time but his header was saved by Gianluigi Buffon.

Zidane was then sent off in the 110th minute of the game after notoriously headbutting

Marco Materazzi

in the chest, so he did not participate in the penalty shootout which Italy won 5–3. Nonetheless, the day after the final, Zidane was awarded the Golden Ball as the player of the tournament.

Diego Forlán – South Africa World Cup, 2010

Uruguay was seeded in Group A, alongside the host country, South Africa, previous finalists, France, and Mexico. Although a lot of people thought that France was going to be the group leader and South Africa, due to its host ship is going to be the other qualifying team of the group, it was actually Uruguay and Mexico that advanced to the knockout stage.

Diego Forlan

was the frontier of the attack, with the help of 2 young strikers that proven to be two of the bests in the world in the years to come; Luis Suarez and Edinson Cavani.

On 16 June 2010, during Uruguay's second group game in the 2010 tournament against South Africa, Forlán opened the scoring with a right-footed long-range effort.

Later in the game, Forlán scored from the penalty spot, shooting high into the goal for his second, and also had a hand in Uruguay's third, in a very 3–0 convince the host nation. On 2 July 2010, Forlán scored a free-kick against Ghana to equalize the quarter-final.

The match ended 1–1 and Uruguay advanced to the semi-finals after defeating Ghana 4–2 in the penalty shootout. On 6 July 2010, Forlán scored another long-range goal, now along with his left foot to equalize against the Netherlands within the semi-final.

Despite a half-time score of 1–1, Uruguay eventually lost 3–2 because the Dutch advanced to the Finals. Forlán became the first player since Lothar Matthäus in 1990 to get three goals from outside the penalty area in one tournament.

On 10 July 2010, Forlán scored for the ultimate time within the tournament as he netted a well-executed volley from the sting of the realm to provide Uruguay the lead. This goal, from a go Egidio Arévalo Ríos, was selected by FIFA because of the Goal of the Tournament.

Forlán then hit the crossbar with the ultimate kick of the sport from a free-kick as they lost to Germany 3–2 within the third-place play-off. Forlán was awarded the “Golden Ball” because of the tournament's best player. He was also picked for the team of the tournament and was the joint top scorer at the World Cup with five goals.

Lionel Messi – Brazil World Cup, 2014

We are all familiar with the genius of this man in the field, but when he combines that genius with the passion for defending your country, it is truly something transcending. It is no surprise to see

Messi

’s name on the list of the

FIFA World Cup Golden Ball winners

.

Ahead of the World Cup in Brazil, doubts persisted over Messi's form, as he finished an unsuccessful and injury-plagued season with Barcelona. At the start of the tournament, however, he gave strong performances, being elected man of the match in their first four matches.

In his first World Cup match as captain, he led them to a 2–1 victory over Bosnia and Herzegovina; he helped create Sead Kolašinac's own goal and scored their second strike after a dribble past three players, his first World Cup goal since his debut in the tournament eight years earlier.

During the second match against Iran, he scored an injury-time goal from 25 yards out to end the game in a 1–0 win, securing their qualification for the knockout phase.

He scored twice in the last group match, a 3–2 victory over Nigeria, his second goal coming from a free-kick, as they finished first in their group.

Messi assisted a late goal in extra time to ensure a 1–0 win against Switzerland in the round of 16 and played in the 1–0 quarter-final win against Belgium as Argentina progressed to the semi-final of the World Cup for the first time since 1990.

Following a 0–0 draw in extra time, they eliminated the Netherlands 4–2 in a penalty shootout to reach the final, with Messi scoring his team's first penalty. Billed as Messi versus Germany, the world's best player against the best team, the final was a repeat of the 1990 final featuring Diego Maradona.

Within the first half-hour, Messi had started the play that led to a goal, but it was ruled offside. He missed several opportunities to open the scoring throughout the match, in particular at the start of the second half when his breakaway effort went wide of the far post.

Substitute

Mario Götze

finally scored in the 113th minute, followed in the last minute of extra time by a free-kick that Messi sent over the net, as Germany won the match 1–0 to claim the World Cup.

At the conclusion of the final, Messi was awarded the Golden Ball as the

best player of the tournament

. In addition, he created the most chances, completed the most dribbling runs, made the most deliveries into the penalty area, and produced the most through balls in the competition.

Luka Modrić – Russia World Cup, 2018

Luka Modrić

was given the captain armband ahead of the World Cup after Darijo Srna announced his retirement, thus Luka’s role became even more important to his team.

His trio with Ivan Rakitić, and Marcelo Brozović was one of the most important reasons why Croatia advanced as far as the final match when even the most optimistic Croatian fans couldn’t believe in it before the start of the competition.

Modrić, who had won his third UEFA Champions League in a row weeks before the start of the World Cup, joined his national team as Croatia was placed in Group D alongside Argentina, Iceland, and Nigeria.

In Croatia's opening win against Nigeria, Modrić once again successfully executed a penalty kick and was named Man of the Match. He also scored in Croatia's subsequent 3–0 win over Argentina with a long-range shot from 23 meters, also being named Man of the Match.

After also featuring in the final group stage match, against Iceland, his performances in the first round of the tournament saw him ranked by most of the critical websites and media members as the best player in the group stage.

In the round of 16 against Denmark on 1 July, with the score tied at 1–1, Modrić created a goalscoring opportunity for Ante Rebić in the second half of extra-time, who was brought down in the penalty area; Modrić proceeded to take the penalty, but his strike was saved by Kasper Schmeichel.

, Modrić managed to score his spot-kick during the ensuing penalty shoot-out and Croatia advanced to the next round following a 3–2 victory on penalties.

In the quarter-finals against hosts Russia on 7 July, Modrić provided an assist in extra-time for Domagoj Vida from a corner kick, and once again scored in the victorious penalty shoot-out following a 2–2 draw; he was named Man of the Match for the third time in the tournament.

In the semi-final against England on 11 July, Croatia advanced to the World Cup final for the first time in their history following a 2–1 victory in extra time.

Although Croatia was beaten 4–2 by France in the final on 15 July, Modrić was awarded the Golden Ball for the best player of the tournament and was included in the Team of the Tournament.

Due to his club, and national team performance at the 2018 FIFA World Cup, where he also received the Golden Ball, in August and September Modrić won the UEFA Men's Player of the Year Award and The Best FIFA Men's Player Award, while in December, he added the Ballon d'Or to his personal tally, marking the first time since 2007 that the award was not won by Lionel Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

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