From Memphis Depay to Roger Milla, the World Cup has seen some top substitutes
The super subs in the World Cup finals, ranging from Dutch international Memphis Depay to Cameroon legend Roger Milla, have made their own history.
Super subs, or players who can change the course of the games as a substitute rather than being in the lineup, have become increasingly common in modern football, especially in the Europe’s top club competitions. The matches are getting so intense that teams need more than eleven names in the starting lineups. Therefore, the role of substitutes is getting more crucial. The increase in substitution rules from three to five makes it even more likely.
Being a substitute may not be the role that every player desires, as playing on a regular basis would be preferable. However, it is likely to be inevitable for some players in the upcoming FIFA World Cup later this year. A number of players on each team could face fitness issues during the tournament due to the congested fixtures in the current season. Super subs will be a viable solution for the World Cup campaign.
Since the substitution rule was implemented in the 1970 tournament, not many players appear to have been super sub in more than one game in the final round. The following are the top ten:
The Top Ten Super Subs to Feature in World Cup Finals
Memphis Depay (Netherlands – 2014)
The former Lyon man was still 20 years when he made the cut in the 2014 World Cup squad. He only made three appearances during the group stage as a substitute when he scored and provided an assist in a thriller win over Australia before adding his tally versus Chile. Yet, Depay could not help breaking the deadlock while featuring from the start at the quarterfinal against Costa Rica.
Jose Eloy (Spain – 1986)
He was only meant to be a 21-year-old reserve front-man in Spain’s 1986 World Cup squad. However, Eloy turned out to contribute well in his limited games as he registered one goal and an assist while crushing Algeria 3-0 plus another assist in a 5-1 victory over Denmark in the round of 16. Unfortunately, the former Valencia and Sporting Gijon man was more notorious for his failure on penalties against Belgium which sent La Furia Roja to the exit.
Marouane Fellaini (Belgium – 2014 & 2018)
The Belgian international had always been a well-known impact player from off the bench, particularly during his time with Manchester United. Unlike United’s other famous substitute, Ole Gunner Solskjær, who did not shine on the world stage, Fellaini has managed to do so. He bagged an equalizer against Japan in a thrilling encounter at the round of 16 in Russia 2018, as well as versus Algeria in the first match of the 2014 edition. Fellaini was also in a starting lineup in several games in both editions but somehow did better as a substitute.
Ricardo Pelaez (Mexico – 1998)
Pelaez was virtually unknown in France in 1998, as Mexico relied on the frontl-ine duo of Luis Hernandez and Chuatemaoc Blanco. El Sombrero owed him gratitude for his contributions in the first and third matches of the group stage as he broke the deadlock in those crucial games. Mexico was one goal and even two goals behind while meeting South Korea and Netherlands respectively. Palaez scored the first goal in the former leading to a victory. He also did it again plus provided an assist in the latter to help Mexico progress to the next stage.
Klaas Jan Huntelaar (Netherlands – 2010 & 2014)
With prolific strikers such as Robin Van Persie and Dirk Kuyt in the Netherlands squad, Huntelaar had always been down the pecking order. Nevertheless, the former Schalke man offered a solution when necessary. He netted one against Cameroon in 2010 edition and another late goal plus made an assist in a dramatic 2-1 win over Mexico at the round of 16 in 2014.
Rudi Voeller (Germany – 1986)
He was probably the mainstay in Die Mannschaft during their successful campaign in 1990 but did not contribute much as the first choice in Mexico 1986. The former Marseille man made four appearances in the starting eleven and came off the bench twice. Voeller surprisingly did better as a substitute by bagging twice at the semifinal and the final. On the contrary, he only scored once while featuring from the start.
John Aloisi (Australia – 2006)
The former Alaves man was not the main striker for the Socceroos campaign in Germany 2006. However, it was Aloisi who eventually made the difference in their second World Cup appearance. He scored the last goal and created an assist at the opener against Japan plus another one while holding Croatia in a draw, allowing them to advance to the next round. Unfortunately, he was unable to replicate his form in the next game.
Gianni Rivera (Italy – 1970)
He was probably the first super sub in World Cup history. The former AC Milan star did it when the substitution rule was introduced in the 1970 tournament. Despite being the key man in his club, Rivera was not the first choice for Gli Azzurri as he came off the bench four times. He proved his worth in the knockout stage as Italy ran rampant against Mexico in the quarter-final and snatched a win in a thriller versus Germany in the semifinal. The play-maker scored two winning goals and provided one assist in those vital games.
André Schürrle (Germany – 2014)
The former Chelsea and Fulham man could be considered Joachim Low’s secret weapon in 2014 as he made six appearances from the bench. Yet, he never let down the team. Schürrle registered three goals including an opener against Algeria, a brace versus Brazil, plus one victorious assist in the final. Sadly, the versatile winger hung his boots at the age of 29 in 2020 due to a series of injuries.
Roger Milla (Cameroon -1990)
There were no better super subs in the World Cup than veteran striker Roger Milla, who was able to shine at the age of 38 years old in Italy 1990. Milla scored four goals, all of which were winning goals against Romania in the preliminary round and Colombia in the round of 16. He also contributed one assist in their devastating 3-2 loss to England in the quarterfinal. The Cameroon legend even still managed to bag another goal in USA 1994 when he was 42 years old!