Top 5: Players who put their countries on the football map

With the international break taking centre stage this weekend, European nations are busily preparing (or repairing) their hopes and dreams for next’s summer’s Euro 2016 tournament in France, while across the world early 2018 World Cup qualifiers are getting underway.

So to celebrate all things international football, Ladbrokes News are taking a look at five notable stars who hauled their nations into the soccer spotlight.

George Weah

Now before you start protesting about every player we name in this list, name another Liberian player. Without Googling.

If you have managed this, well done, you are an ultimate hipster. If not, read on.

George Weah is the first and only player most of us can name from Liberia. Without George, many might forget the nation exists at all.

Weah spent 13 years in the spotlight with spells at Monaco, PSG, AC Milan, Chelsea, Man City and Marseille.

His stunning solo goal for AC in 1996 is and will always be legendary. Ensuring we all know at least one Liberian footballer for all of time.

Paulo Wanchope

Costa Rica had reached just one World Cup finals (1990) before his debut for the Caribbean team in 1996.

During his subsequent 12-year international career, the Costa Ricans then reached both the 2002 and 2006 World Cups. Coincidence? Absolutely not.

Further determined to put his nation on television screens across the planet, Wanchope netted in both the South Korea/Japan and Germany tournaments. Against Brazil in a 5-2 thriller and Germany in a stonking 4-2 contest.

That’s just the Paulo Wanchope way. Throw in his superb strike for Derby against Manchester United at Old Trafford in 1997 and when someone asks, name a Costa Rican player, Wanchope is rightly regarded as the go-to answer.

He didn’t stop creating headlines as a player either. Wanchope became national coach in January this year, only to step down in August following a brawl with a steward.

Roger Milla

Roger Milla is Cameroon and Cameroon is Roger Milla.

We might be able to reel off a list of Cameroonian internationals in more recent times; Samuel Eto’o, Pierre Wome and Stephane M’Bia to name but three, but it’s Milla who thrust the Indomitable lions into living rooms around the world.

Having appeared for Cameroon at the 1982 World Cup, Milla became the hero eight years later with four goals and four famous celebrations.

At 38-years-old, his goals enabled his country to reach the quarter-finals, becoming the first African side to do so.

Even then he caused England headaches by coming off the bench to win a penalty. England edged the match 3-2 but Milla wrote his name into the history books.

Four years later, the dance around the corner flag made a return in the USA as Milla came out of retirement to score against Russia. His record for the oldest-scorer at a World Cup still stands, and we imagine they might do for some time yet.

Gheorghe Hagi

A 17-year career in the Romanian national team means Gheorghie Hagi is at the forefront of at least two-generations when it comes to recalling Romania players.

Hagi was also a big deal in the club scene too, spending two years at both Real Madrid and Barcelona.

One of Europe’s finest midfielders throughout the 1990s, Hagi played a minimum three games a year for Romania from 1983-2000. Who says players get tired?

Hagi’s place in Romanian folklore is cemented after leading the team to the quarter-finals in the 1994 World Cup. A stunning 40-yard goal against Colombia also helped ensure he made the Team of the Tournament.

Four years later Hagi was on the world stage once again, in the same group as England at World Cup 98.

To add some perspective to his incredible career, Hagi led Romania to a 2-1 victory over Glenn Hoddle’s England at that tournament, whose starting line up included Michael Owen.

Owen was three-years-old when Hagi made his international debut.

Gareth Bale

Now now, before Welsh supporters get up in arms…

We know about Ian Rush, Ryan Giggs and the great John Charles who lead the Red Dragons to Sweden in 1958, but since Gareth Bale burst on the scene, Wales have risen up the FIFA rankings in a manner which can’t be disputed.

Bale’s goals in qualifying for Euro 2016 were directly responsible for nine points. Given that Wales secured a place in France by four points over Bosnia, that’s pretty significant.

The Real Madrid man is already the fifth-top scorer for his country with 19 goals, and it’s a question of when rather than if he overtakes Ian Rush’s record of 28.

The world’s most expensive player has been praised for the way he has taken to his talismanic status in the Welsh side, and as they head to a first tournament in 58 years, Wales go to France with a player who is ready to lead them out onto the world scene.

All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing.

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