For many footballers, playing at a FIFA World Cup™ represents the realisation of a boyhood dream. Some manage to go one better by scoring. And then there are the really lucky ones.
A World Cup hat-trick is a feat that has been achieved only by a select few, with the last six editions having produced a combined haul of just eight. We have, though, already witnessed two trebles at Brazil 2014, with Thomas Muller claiming the first and Xherdan Shaqiri the second - and, with it, a notable milestone.
The Switzerland star's hat-trick was, after all, the 50th in the history of the World Cup, and came almost 84 years after USA's Bert Patenaude claimed the first in 1930 against Paraguay. However, while treble-scorers are already in short enough supply on the game's greatest stage, there is an even more exclusive club: the men who have done it more than once. This particular group numbers just four and, here, FIFA.compays tribute to an extraordinary World Cup quartet.
Sandor Kocsis This Hungary legend was a true phenomenon. In 68 international appearances, Kocsis scored 75 times, spearheading the spectacular attack of the world-renowned Magical Magyars. With his head alone, he found the net more than 400 times for club and country, a record that made him arguably the most feared centre-forward of his generation. Gusztav Sebes, Kocsis' Hungary coach, said of him: “There has never been anybody better with his head. But he was also a very complete striker who held the ball up and could finish with both feet. He was an extraordinary player, one of the greatest there’s ever been. His performances in 1954 deserved the Trophy.” It was in '54 that Kocsis became the first player to score two hat-tricks at a single World Cup, notching three goals in a 9-0 thrashing of Korea Republic and four in an 8-3 drubbing of West Germany, which confirmed Hungary's status as favourites. The Germans, though, famously bounced back to win the Final 3-2, denying the Magyars the Trophy and inflicting their only defeat in six years. Hat-tricks: v Korea Republic (9-0), 17/06/54; v Germany FR (8-3), 20/06/54
Just Fontaine No-one has ever managed more goals in a single World Cup than Fontaine in 1958. The free-scoring Frenchman notched up 13 goals - seven with his right foot, five with his left and one with his head - but, like Kocsis, was denied a winner's medal. Even his landmark scoring achievement, which included hat-tricks against Paraguay and the West Germans, was of little consolation. “At that time no one really cared much about the scoring charts,” he said. “I scored my goals because my understanding with [Raymond] Kopa was good right from the start, because we were all happy to be together and because the team played attacking football.” Fontaine's similarities with Kocsis did not begin and end with World Cup disappointment. The Frenchman, too, was masterful in the air, even joking: “I jump so high to head the ball, when I come down I have snow in my hair.” Hat-tricks: v Paraguay (7-3), 08/06/58; v Germany FR (6-3), 28/06/58
Gerd Muller Der Bomber needs no introduction. A peerless predator, Muller scored 68 times in 62 internationals, setting a record that was only recently surpassed by Miroslav Klose - albeit after 70 more appearances. The Bayern Munich legend is the only member of our quartet to have lifted the World Cup Trophy, having scored in the Final that brought West Germany glory in 1974. However, it was in 1970 that Muller enjoyed his most productive personal campaign, with trebles against Bulgaria and Peru helping him take the top scorer award with ten goals overall. “That tournament was even more important for me than 1974,” he said. “We had an outstanding team then.” Hat-tricks: v Bulgaria (5-2), 07/06/70; v Peru 10/06/70
Gabriel Batistuta “For me, he's the best striker I've ever seen.” This was Diego Maradona's take on Batistuta, and it was far from a solitary tribute. Batigol was a magnificent all-round No9 and, with 56 goals in 78 international appearances, he remains Argentina's record goalscorer. He is also unique in having scored his World Cup hat-tricks in separate editions. Remarkably, those trebles came exactly four years apart - on 21 June 1994 and 1998 - and both were against teams making their first appearance on the global stage. Batistuta, for his part, told FIFA.com that he wanted to be remembered as "a good guy and a great professional who gave everything wherever he went". “Goalscoring records mean nothing in comparison,” he added. “I only scored those goals because I worked so hard at my game.” Hat-tricks: v Greece, 21/6/94 (4-0); v Jamaica, 21/6/98 (5-0)
Although time is running out in which to turn this quartet into a quintet here at Brazil 2014, three men are halfway there. Muller is one, of course, while Gonzalo Higuain and Klose - scorers of hat-tricks in 2010 and 2002 respectively - are the others. If any of them can emulate their illustrious predecessors between now and 13 July, a place in World Cup folklore is assured.