The people's champions
© AFP

What do a humble corner flag, a striking blond mane and four goals scored in the space of 32 minutes have in common? As unlikely as it may sound, all have played a key role in FIFA World Cup™ history at some point, contributing to the legend of players who may never have lifted the coveted Trophy itself, but who earned themselves a place in the hearts of fans across the globe.

As the clock ticks down to the next instalment of qualifiers on the road to South Africa, FIFA.com looks back at the individuals and teams that captured the public's imagination and have become the stuff of legend for their displays during a FIFA World Cup finals.

Dance of a lion
No fewer than four times during the 1990 edition in Italy, a crafty little forward from Cameroon by the name of Roger Milla strode towards the corner flag and wiggled his hips to the rhythm of the lambada. Seconds previously on each occasion, the quick-thinking legend had found the back of the net for the Indomitable Lions, helping his team reach the quarter-finals and seducing football lovers the world over in the process.

Who would have believed that Milla was 38 at the time and had come into the tournament on the back of a seven-month amateur stint on Reunion Island? Considered no more than an impact substitute when the tournament began, he was still around four years later to celebrate another goal at USA 1994. Aged 42 by then, he thus became the oldest scorer at a FIFA World Cup finals. Now a FIFA Football Committee member, he maintains that records and distinctions count for little, saying: "Football was all that ever mattered to me."

Colombia's bird of paradise
It was also during the 1994 tournament that another extravagant talent struck a chord with supporters. Sporting a unique shock of blond hair worthy of a record itself, Carlos Valderrama arrived in the US as part of a highly rated Colombian team fresh from their sensational 5-0 qualifying win over Argentina in Buenos Aires.

Football was all that ever mattered to me
The inimitable Roger Milla speaking of his record and lasting moments.

Valderrama and Co ultimately finished last in their group, but El Pibe (The Kid) made a big impression thanks also to his energy and clever passing, all of which helped him become a sensation Stateside. "I was very surprised by the enthusiasm football generated in the United States," he later declared. It was no surprise, then, when he became one of the highest-profile foreign imports in Major League Soccer, making a big contribution to the growth of the game in America.

Eusebio: goals and tears
The most spectacular contribution to a single FIFA World Cup encounter undoubtedly belongs to Portugal's finest, however. Nicknamed the Black Pearl, Eusebio gave the watching world notice of his extraordinary abilities on English soil in 1966, firstly by firing outsiders Portugal past Brazil with a double against the defending champions during the group stage. Next, faced with Korea DPR in an unforgettable quarter-final contest, the speedy striker notched four goals and added an assist in the space of just 32 minutes, turning a disastrous three-goal deficit into a famous 5-3 win by the time the final whistle blew.  

For the 24-year-old from Mozambique, this was the tournament of his life, despite his myriad other achievements. Eusebio found the target nine times in total and fully deserved his Ballon d'Or that year, after Portugal had succumbed to the hosts and eventual champions in the next round. The tears streamed down Eusebio's face after that defeat, but English supporters had long since fallen under his spell and even immortalised his displays with a waxwork at Madame Tussauds. 

Who will shine next summer?
The history of the global showcase is littered with similar tales celebrating the heroes and offbeat characters of the beautiful game. Diego Maradona at Mexico 1986 and Pele in Sweden during the 1958 tournament would likewise be worthy of mention, as would Mexican goalkeeper Jorge Campos, purveyor of an eccentric fashion sense and inimitable style between the sticks.  More recently, the teams from Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago have won over the neutrals courtesy of their refreshing football.

Which other fan favourites have stood out for you? Who are the players who inspire you now and which players can you imagine winning over supporters across the planet at the 2010 FIFA World Cup South Africa? Let us know your thoughts by adding your comments below!