Portugal will go the tournament as dark horses heavily reliant on their captain and talisman Ronaldo, who will need to defy the odds if he is to avoid becoming another footnote in a cautionary tale.

Since the inception of the Ballon d'Or, conceived by France Football magazine in 1956 to recognize Europe, and then latterly, the world's most outstanding player each year, of the 14 players in possession of the prize heading into a World Cup none have achieved ultimate success on the global stage.
     
Granted the facts are skewed to an extent given only European players were eligible for the prize prior to 1995, ruling out the likes of three-time World Cup winner Pele and
Diego Maradona, who was central to Argentina's 1986 triumph, but that leaves some of the game's most decorated players who have fallen short.
    
Take Barcelona star Lionel Messi, who won the first of his four consecutive Ballon d'Or awards in 2009, for example.

An Argentina side with an embarrassment of attacking riches breezed through to the quarter-finals at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa despite Messi not contributing a single goal. However, when they needed him most he was unable to deliver as Maradona's shellshocked Argentine team were ruthlessly torn apart by Germany 4-0 in the last eight.

That provided merely just the latest chapter of a World Cup campaign ending in disappointment for the world's leading player, a story that dates back to 1957 Ballon d'Or recipient and Real Madrid legend Alfredo Di Stefano.

For Argentine-born Di Stefano, who acquired Spanish citizenship in time for the 1958 qualifiers despite previously representing his homeland as well as Colombia, his adopted nation fell short in their quest to reach the finals leaving one of the world's greatest players to ultimately finish his career without ever appearing at the World Cup.

(Agencies)

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