The Top One-off Unexpected Stars at World Cups

There have always been unexpected stars who thrived in one World Cup but vanished in the following one.

The World Cup is truly a amazing event. It is the stage not only for the mainstays who are expected to shine in the tournament, but also for unlikely ones. Throughout the history of the tournament, there have been unexpected stars in almost every edition. They typically came off the bench to replace injured key players, took over the positions of stars with poor form, or flourished while assisting their team to unexpectedly advance further. Unfortunately, some of them only stole the spotlight in one edition, rather than rising to become constant key figures.

There are several unexpected stars in World Cup 2022 who have emerged with crucial roles in the current campaign. Argentina’s Enzo Fernandez, Alexis Mac Allister, and Julian Alvarez, as well as Morocco’s Sofyan Amrabat, are among them. Other examples include France left back Theo Hernandez, who filled in for his brother Lucas due to injury, and the stunning Croatian goalie Dominik Livakovic. Only time will tell if they can shine in future editions. Here are some one-time unlikely figures who stole the show in past World Cup finals.

The Best One-off Unexpected Stars in World Cup History

  1. Ilhan Mansiz (Turkey, 2002)

The former Beskitas forward was not Turkey’s first choice upfront for World Cup 2002 campaign. He was merely a backup for Hakan Sukur and Hasan Sas. Although he featured in all seven games and helped his country finish third, Mansiz was only in the starting line-up once, in the third-place playoff. However, his form did not disappoint the fans. In fact, he was the top scorer for the Turks with three goals plus one assist.

One of his goals was a decisive Golden Goal in the quarterfinals. It was the only goal against Senegal, sending them through the semifinal. Sadly, Turkey has not qualified for the World Cup finals since then, and Mansiz’s form deteriorated. He never got a call-up again after 2003.

  1. Guillermo Stabile (Argentina, 1930)

He was the first World Cup top scorer in history. Yet, nobody would have thought that Stabile was only La Albiceleste’s second choice back then in the first World Cup. He only started in the second match to replace the striker Roberto Cherro who suffered an anxiety attack. Stabile instantly made an impact with his hattrick while Argentina defeated Mexico 6-3. He went on scoring five more goals, including one in the final. Ironically, he was never named in his nation’s squad afterwards.

  1. Just Fontaine (France, 1958)

He was probably one of the very few unexpected stars who made a record at a World Cup. Fontaine remains the only player to score 13 goals in one edition. He was eventually awarded the top scorer in the 1958 tournament. It was definitely surprising for a forward who only played three times before the tournament and was not called up again for any major tournaments afterwards.

  1. Salvatore Schillaci (Italy, 1990)

He was only a backup for Sampdoria star man, Gianluca Vialli and Napoli striker, Andrea Carnevale. Yet, both of them struggled upfront and were unable to find themselves on the score sheet. On the contrary, Schillacci came off the bench in the opener against Austria and bagged the winning goal. He went on scoring six goals in the tournament. Gli Azzurri would go on to finish third there. The former Inter Milan and Juventus frontman even won the Golden Boot and Golden Ball. However, he never played in any major tournaments after.

  1. Dagomaj Vida and Danijel Subasic (Croatia, 2018)

These Croatian duo were key figures while they reached the final in Russia 2018. They featured in all seven games, including the final. Vida contributed one goal and one assist while Subasic was the hero in two penalty shootouts in the knockout stage. The former was included in the Qatar 2022 squad but did not play a single game. The latter, meanwhile, retired from international fixtures after the World Cup

  1. Fabio Grosso (Italy, 2006)

Grosso was one of the very few one-off unexpected stars who managed to lift the trophy. He featured in six games during the 2006 tournament and netted the winner in the semifinal against Germany. Sadly, the former Internazionale and Lyon man did not make the cut in the World Cup 2010 squad.

  1. Sergio Goycochea (Argentina, 1990)

Goycochea was another shocking story in the World Cup. He only featured in the second game against Soviet Union when Argentina’s first shot-stopper, Nery Pumpido, took a knock. The former Millonarios goalie kept the clean sheet as La Albiceleste won 2-0. He replicated his impressive form in the next four games, including the two shootouts in the quarterfinals and semifinals. Yet, he was unable to deny Andreas Brehme’s penalty in the final. Goycochea was still named in the squad for USA 1994 but did not see the field.

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