The records tumbled as Lionel Messi produced another masterclass as Argentina booked their place in Sunday’s World Cup final.
Messi, 35, also equalled German legend Lothar Matthaus’ all-time World Cup appearance record of 25 games, a feat that will surely be broken against France on Sunday.
Lionel Messi produced yet another masterclass as Argentina beat Croatia to reach the final
The Argentina star (left) holds off Croatia’s uncompromising defender Josko Gvardiol (right) en route to setting up the third semi-final goal, scored by Manchester City forward Julian Alvarez
Messi looks towards the sea of blue supporting his team (above) during the semi-final in Qatar
But as well as the fairytale narrative of Messi potentially winning the one medal he most craves to cap off his career at his last World Cup, he could also join an elite band of players this Sunday.
The Paris Saint-Germain star could become only the ninth footballer in history to win the World Cup, the European Cup/Champions League and the Ballon d’Or during their careers.
Of course, Messi isn’t short of the latter two in that list, winning the Champions League no fewer than four times with Barcelona – and he’s also won the Ballon d’Or for the world’s best player seven times.
So he just needs the World Cup now – most definitely the most challenging of the trio – to join the following greats in the history books.
World Cup 1966 (England); European Cup 1968 (Manchester United); Ballon d’Or 1966
Charlton, one of the finest footballers ever produced in England, was instrumental in their famous World Cup win on home soil in 1966, when they beat West Germany 4-2 in the Wembley final.
In that same year, Charlton was awarded the Ballon d’Or, finishing narrowly ahead of Portuguese star Eusebio.
Two years later, he achieved more Wembley glory when his club, Manchester United, beat Benfica 4-1 after extra time to lift the European Cup for the first time.
Bobby Charlton (left) is pictured up against Franz Beckenbauer in the 1966 World Cup final
Charlton lifted the European Cup when Manchester United beat Benfica at Wembley in 1968
World Cup 1974 (West Germany); European Cup 1974, 1975, 1976 (Bayern Munich); Ballon d’Or 1972, 1976
Beckenbauer did play in the 1966 World Cup final but his moment on the game’s biggest stage arrived eight years later when he captained West Germany to their own success on home turf.
His role in the final was crucial as he man-marked Johan Cruyff and prevented the fancied Holland side playing their feted ‘Total Football’ in a 2-1 win.
Beckenbauer was then part of a dominant Bayern Munich side that won a hat-trick of European Cups in the mid-1970s, considered such an honour at the time the German club were allowed to keep the trophy.
The defender twice claimed the Ballon d’Or – in 1972, as part of an all-German top three with Gerd Muller and Gunter Netzer, and in 1976 when he finished comfortably clear of Dutchman Rob Rensenbrink in the vote.
Franz Beckenbauer lifts the World Cup after West Germany defeated Holland in the 1974 final
World Cup 1974 (West Germany); European Cup 1974, 1975, 1976 (Bayern Munich); Ballon d’Or 1970
Echoing that success was Muller, one of the most prolific strikers of all time. He actually claimed the Ballon d’Or first – in 1970 – when he was voted the best player ahead of Bobby Moore.
Muller then went on to score four times during the 1974 World Cup triumph, including what proved to be the winner against Holland in the final.
He also scored a remarkable quantity of goals during those three European Cup wins – eight in the 1973-74 season and five in each of the next two campaigns, confirming his status as a big game player.
Gerd Muller shoots and scores West Germany’s winning goal in the 1974 World Cup final
World Cup 1982 (Italy); European Cup 1985 (Juventus); Ballon d’Or 1982
1982 was a huge year for legendary Italian forward Rossi, then a Juventus player, as his six goals during the World Cup guided Italy to glory.
This includes two strikes in the semi-final win over Poland and then the first of Italy’s three goals against West Germany in the final, sealing him the Golden Boot and, later that year, the Ballon d’Or.
His European Cup triumph would come three years later but Juve’s 1-0 win over Liverpool was overshadowed by the Heysel Disaster in which 39 people died and over 600 were injured.
Paolo Rossi (pictured) was Italy’s hero when they lifted the World Cup in Spain back in 1982
World Cup 1998 (France); Champions League 2002 (Real Madrid); Ballon d’Or 1998
Zidane is perhaps one of the easier ones in this elite band to guess, certainly for younger football fans.
His contribution to France’s 1998 World Cup triumph in their own backyard was immense, not least his two headers against Brazil in the final.
He was the overwhelming winner of the Ballon d’Or later that year, receiving 244 votes. By comparison, second-placed Davor Suker of Croatia got just 68.
But Zidane would need to switch from Juventus to Real Madrid in order to win the Champions League, having previously lost two finals.
His stunning volley settled the 2002 final against Bayer Leverkusen at Hampden Park, going down as one of the competition’s best-ever goals.
Zidane’s stunning volley (left) helped Real Madrid to Champions League success in 2002
Zidane was voted Ballon d’Or winner in 1998, not long after France’s World Cup triumph
World Cup 2002 (Brazil); Champions League 2003 (AC Milan); Ballon d’Or 1999
Unusually, it was the Ballon d’Or that came first for Rivaldo, won after he’d helped Brazil win the Copa America in 1999.
World Cup success came in 2002 when he formed part of the unstoppable ‘three Rs’ attacking partnership with Ronaldo and Ronaldinho, who powered the Selecao to victory.
Rivaldo scored in Brazil’s first five games of the tournament but there was a controversial moment when he got a Turkish player sent off for clutching his face when the ball had been kicked at his thigh.
Brazil beat Germany 2-0 in the final, courtesy of two Ronaldo goals. Briefly an AC Milan player, he completed the set when they beat Juventus on penalties in the 2003 Champions League final at Old Trafford.
Rivaldo (left) kisses the World Cup trophy with Ronaldo after Brazil’s 2002 win in Japan
World Cup 2002 (Brazil); Champions League 2006 (Barcelona); Ballon d’Or 2005
Sticking with the Brazilian theme, Ronaldinho was also a key part of that 2002 World Cup win, famously scoring with that 40-yard lob over England’s David Seaman in the quarter-final.
Individual recognition came as a Barcelona player in 2005 when he won the Ballon d’Or ahead of England midfield duo Frank Lampard and Steven Gerrard.
And the following year he achieved a much-craved Champions League success when Barcelona defeated Arsenal 2-1 in the Paris final.
Ronaldinho celebrates his famous chip of England’s David Seaman in the 2002 quarter-final
Ronaldinho won the prestigious Ballon d’Or in 2005, a year before Champions League success
World Cup 2002 (Brazil); Champions League 2007 (AC Milan); Ballon d’Or 2007
With all due respect to Kaka, his claim on this ‘triple crown’ is a lot more spurious than everyone else. Just a youngster, he played only 25 minutes of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup triumph and that came in a group stage game against Costa Rica.
Nonetheless, the record books show he was part of the squad and he has the medal to prove it.
Greater glories would come later on, including his role in winning AC Milan the Champions League in 2007, when they beat Liverpool 2-1 in the final.
That year the Brazilian comfortably finished ahead of Cristiano Ronaldo and Messi in the Ballon d’Or polling. Of course, nobody knew at the time he would be the last player other than those two to win it until Luka Modric in 2018.
Kaka in action for AC Milan in their victorious Champions League final with Liverpool in 2007
Champions League 2006, 2009, 2011, 2015 (Barcelona); Ballon d’Or 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019, 2021
So, can Lionel Messi join this elite company on Sunday night?
The ironic thing is he has won more Champions Leagues and Ballon d’Ors than anyone else ever did.
Four times he was king of Europe with Barcelona and he has seven Ballon d’Or wins, including four years in succession between 2009 and 2012.
Two down, one to go.
Messi kisses the Champions League trophy after Barcelona overcame Juventus in 2015
The Argentine star is certainly familiar with the Ballon d’Or, having won the award seven times