Luka Modric and Lionel Messi in all 10 winners of World Cup Golden Ball


Croatia captain and Real Madrid star Luka Modric will head to Qatar aiming to become the first Ballon d’Or winner to retain the award first handed out at the 1982 World Cup.

Fifa has officially recognized the best player in each of the last 10 tournaments, but none has yet retained the title. He has also not been a repeat winner of the Ballon d’Or. While only Argentina, Brazil and Italy can boast two separate recipients of the gong.

The FIFA Technical Committee determines which players are qualified to win the Ballon d’Or at each World Cup. The media representatives will then decide who will take home the award, as well as the Silver and Bronze Balls for the second and third best.

Photo by David Ramos – FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

A number of big-name stars have won second and third place for their efforts in the last 10 tournaments. Lothar Matthaus finished second at Italia 90, Fabio Cannavaro finished second in the standings for Germany 2006 and Thomas Muller was second in 2014.

Lilian Thuram, on the other hand, took the bronze medal at the home World Cup in France 1998. Andrea Pirlo followed compatriot Cannavaro in the 2006 tournament, where Italy won its fourth title. While David Villa was the hero when Spain won in 2010, they finished third.

In fact, only in 1982, 1986 and 1994 did the Ballon d’Or winner come from a country that also won that year’s World Cup. The latter nation boasted top stars in 1998, 2002, 2006, 2014 and 2018, along with the third-placed team in 1990.

The 2010 FIFA World Cup in South Africa even saw a Ballon d’Or winner emerge from a country that finished fourth. So with that in mind, who are the seven players who have won the Ballon d’Or at the last 10 World Cups before the edition in Qatar in 2022?

Paolo Rossi became the first Ballon d’Or winner when Italy won the 1982 World Cup title

Fifa awarded the first Ballon d’Or to Paolo Rossi in Spain in 1982 after the striker helped Italy win the third of four World Cups to date. The Prato-born striker lit up the competition to end the summer as top scorer with six goals in his seven appearances this year.

Rossi scored his first goal only in the final shootout of the second group stage. Still, it was the spark for a winning hat-trick and they beat Brazil 3-2 after being tied twice. He then found the net twice to beat Poland 2-0 in the semi-finals before defeating Germany 3-1.

Diego Maradona won the Ballon d’Or and World Cup glory with Argentina in 1986

Diego Maradona helped inspire Argentina to their second World Cup title during the tournament in Mexico in 1986. The competition was the iconic playmaker’s second of four and the first in which he wore the La Albiceleste captain’s armband.

The Lanus-born creator has more than lived up to the duties of leading the nation to the World Cup. He found the net five times and added a further five assists in seven games – playing every minute – including creating a late winner to beat Germany 3-2 in the final.

Photo credit should read DANIEL GARCIA/AFP via Getty Images

Italy became the first country with two Ballon d’Or winners through Salvatore Schillaci

Italy became the first country to boast two Ballon d’Or winners in 1990 when Salvatore Schillaci produced a superb World Cup performance on home soil. But the Azzurri could only finish third as Germany beat Argentina in the final to seal their third of four crowns to date.

However, Schillaci took personal honors with six goals to earn the Golden Boot and Ball. The striker – playing in the only World Cup of his career – found the net in all but one draw. He also assisted once in addition to scoring to beat England in the play-off for third place.

Romario became Brazil’s first Ballon d’Or winner at the 1994 World Cup

Brazil is a record five-time World Cup winner, but one of its players won the Ballon d’Or only in 1994, Romario. The centre-forward beat Roberto Baggio and Hristo Stoichkov – joint top scorer (6) with Oleg Salenko – for the top individual honour.

Romario emerged as the best player in the United States after playing a key role in Brazil winning their fourth World Cup. The 71-man striker from Rio de Janeiro won his only World Cup title with five goals and three assists in seven games, playing every minute.

His efforts directly contributed to the Selecao defeating Russia and Cameroon while drawing with Sweden in the group stage. Romario’s assists also decided their last 16 tie with the USA, before he scored the decisive goals in the quarter-finals against Holland and the semi-finals against Sweden.

Ronaldo brought the awards back to Brazil with honors in 1998

Ronaldo Nazario brought the Golden Balls back to Brazil after winning the individual honor in 1998. The Selecao failed to defend their crown after losing to France in the final – the first champions when they played on home soil – but put on a show going forward.

The Rio de Janeiro native sat behind him on the bench during every match at the 1994 World Cup to play every second in 1998. Ronaldo also scored four goals and added three assists in his seven games. Fundamentally, however, he failed to create any against France in Paris.

Photo credit: Ben Radford/Getty Images

German icon Oliver Kahn won the first national gong in 2002

Germany did not have a Ballon d’Or winner until Oliver Kahn in 2002, after great World Cup shows in South Korea and Japan. He also denied Ronaldo more titles, with the Brazilian star finishing second in the rankings to South Korean legend Hong Myung-bo.

Additionally, Kahn was the first goalkeeper to secure the Ballon d’Or as he led Die Mannschaft to the final with five clean sheets. Only the Republic of Ireland could beat the eight-time Bundesliga champions before Brazil struck twice to win the final 2-0.

Zinedine Zidane won the 2006 Ballon d’Or despite a controversial ending to the World Cup

Zinedine Zidane won the Ballon d’Or at the 2006 World Cup in Germany despite the France icon causing a controversial end to his tournament. The Marseille star captained Les Bleus throughout the tournament but saw red in the final before Italy won on penalties.

Goals and bookings were never far from Zidane as he missed the last group game after two yellow cards. However, he made his return in the knockout stages with a goal and an assist against Spain, setting up to beat Brazil 1–0 and then scoring to knock Portugal out 1–0.

Another goal for Zidane followed just seven minutes from time when he flashed a penalty for the home side. Still, Marco Materazzi equalized early on and later got a header from Zidane in extra-time when referee Horacio Elizondo waved the red card.

Diego Forlan, the only Ballon d’Or winner to finish outside the top three at the World Cup

Diego Forlan became the first and still only Ballon d’Or winner to play for a country that finished outside the top three at the World Cup. His Uruguayan team made it to the semi-finals in 2010, but then lost to the Netherlands and then again to Germany.

However, the centre-forward more than deserved the Ballon d’Or after finishing at the World Cup as one of four players with five goals to share the Golden Boot. Three of Forlan’s catches also came from shots taken outside the box – including the goal of the tournament.

Photo credit should read JUAN MABROMATA/AFP via Getty Images

Lionel Messi led Argentina to second place at the 2014 World Cup for the Ballon d’Or

Lionel Messi powered Argentina to second place at the 2014 World Cup in Brazil to earn the Ballon d’Or. The iconic forward had the weight of a nation on his shoulders in every game, but managed to pull off results that La Albiceleste probably didn’t deserve.

Argentina might not even have made it out of Group F if it wasn’t for Messi. He scored as they beat Bosnia and Herzegovina 2-1, Iran 1-0 and set up to beat Nigeria 3-2. The 35-year-old then bagged an assist to beat Switzerland 1-0 in the last 16, captaining them in the final.

Luka Modric won the Ballon d’Or when Croatia finished second in 2018

Modric won the latest Ballon d’Or after leading Croatia to the final at the 2018 World Cup in Russia. The Real Madrid midfielder will captain his nation in Qatar later this year knowing that, at the age of 37, it will very likely be his last chance to win a Fifa tournament.

The 152-cap Vatreni captain started all seven of Croatia’s games in Russia – only taking time-out for the final half-hour of the final group stage tie. He scored once to win Group D matches against Nigeria and Argentina, while assisting against Russia in the quarter-finals.

France would go on to defeat Croatia 4-2 in the final, but Modric left the 2018 World Cup with the Ballon d’Or award. Now he could become the first double recipient with another strong run of showcase performances at the 22nd edition of the Fifa tournament in Qatar.

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