Beckham, Zidane & 12 stars who famously flopped at the World Cup

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Gracing the grandest stage in football should be considered the pinnacle of a playing career, but for many that global dream has become a disaster

  1. David Beckham

    A first outing at a major international tournament for the poster boy of English football ended in red card shame following an ill-advised flick of his right foot into the legs of Diego Simeone. Redemption would be achieved by the Manchester United and Real Madrid legend in the years which followed, but only after ‘Golden Balls’ had become the subject of burning effigies and terrace taunts at just about every stadium away from Old Trafford.

  2. Zinedine Zidane

    A hero on home soil in 1998, one of the all-time greats endured a rather chequered World Cup history from that point. Four years on from his two-goal final heroics, Zidane saw injury restrict him to just one outing in a humbling group stage exit for the holders. It was, however, in 2006 that he would endure the most galling of World Cup moments, with the sight of him headbutting Marco Materazzi one which will live long in the memory for all of the wrong reasons.

  3. Gonzalo Higuain

    Without doubt one of the most fearsome frontmen in European football, with his pedigree having been proved at the likes of Real Madrid, Napoli and Juventus. Higuain does, however, have a tendency to fluff his lines when it matters most for Argentina. Missed a penalty in the 2015 Copa America final and squandered a glorious chance in a 2016 repeat with Chile. He had previous by then, with his inability to convert any of the chances which came his way in the 2014 World Cup final costing Argentina dear.

  4. David Luiz

    The flamboyant Brazilian has never been renowned for his defensive prowess, with the Samba flair running through his veins ensuring that he is never too far away from a rush of blood which leads to him making questionable decisions. Forced to prove that he could be relied upon to keep the back door bolted for Brazil at a home finals in 2014, Luiz was left hopelessly exposed without Thiago Silva to carry him in a 7-1 semi-final mauling by Germany.

  5. Nicolas Anelka

    ‘Le Sulk’ lived up to a rather unfortunate nickname in spectacular fashion at the 2010 World Cup, with France enduring another of the implosions which have become far too common in their recent international history. In South Africa, things were already going badly by the time Anelka fell out with coach Raymond Domenech and was sent home in disgrace. Prior to that, he had taken in more than 400 minutes of football for France without firing in a single shot!

  6. Fernando Torres

    Torres will point to the fact that he ended the 2010 World Cup with a winners’ medal as proof that he was no flop, but Spain arguably prevailed in spite of him rather than because of him. Clearly no longer the player he was when inspiring Euro 2008 glory for La Roja, the then Liverpool striker wasted countless chances in front of goal before eventually being dropped by Vicente del Bosque for the semi-finals and final in South Africa.

  7. Wayne Rooney

    Once the golden boy of the English game and the Three Lions’ all-time leading goalscorer, but just one of the 53 efforts he managed for his country came at the World Cup finals. Rooney’s first outing among the global elite came in 2006, and proved to be an occasion to forget. Struggling for fitness on the back of a broken metatarsal, the Manchester United star saw red in a quarter-final clash with Portugal for a stamp on Ricardo Carvalho – leading to Cristiano Ronaldo’s infamous winking episode.

  8. Frank Rijkaard

    The Netherlands may have invented ‘Total Football’ with Johan Cruyff and Co. in the 1970s, but it was their class of the 80s which delivered tangible success in the form of a Euro ’88 triumph. Two years on and a star-studded side was expected to do well at Italia ’90. They didn’t and Rijkaard, just one of several high-profile players to flop, saw his tournament end in disgrace after being caught spitting at West Germany striker Rudi Voller.

  9. Fabio Cannavaro

    Never renowned for his pace, but at 36 years of age an iconic figure within the Italy ranks was clearly well past his best by 2010. The ‘Berlin Wall’ of 2006 had started to crumble four years on, with a series of inept displays, which included a number of uncharacteristic mistakes, highlighting how far the Azzurri as a collective had fallen as the reigning champions were sent packing at the group stage.

  10. Iker Casillas

    Tumbling from the top can be a painful experience, as Casillas found out to his cost in Brazil. Spain had dominated the football scene for a number of years, collecting one World Cup and two European Championships, but a golden generation had lost its shine by the time it arrived in Brazil. Casillas epitomised the holders’ fall from grace, gifting the Netherlands two goals in a crushing 5-1 opening defeat before going on to fare little better in a 2-0 reversal against Chile. Was replaced by Pepe Reina for a dead rubber against Australia.

  11. Steven Gerrard

    Will rightly go down in history as a Liverpool legend and one of the finest midfielders of his generation. Gerrard was, however, unable to secure an iconic standing with England as he struggled to replicate his domestic form on an international stage. Missed out on the 2002 World Cup through injury, was among those to miss from the spot as England tumbled out in 2006, skippered the side in 2010 and 2014, but took in the last of his 114 appearances off the bench following another dismal showing from the Three Lions in Brazil.

  12. Rene Higuita

    The Colombian goalkeeper was a hugely popular figure in his home country heading to the 1990 World Cup, where the world was introduced to his roving style of play which saw him join in on attacking phases and take set-pieces. The first well-known sweeper-keeper, Higuita's penchant for dribbling the ball led to his - and Colombia's - downfall at the tournament, losing possession to Roger Milla near the half-way line, leading Cameroon to score in extra-time and advance to the quarter-finals.