Diego Maradona recognized early during the World Cup soccer tournament that there would not be one or two dominant players as is usually the case in these once-in-every-four-years extravaganzas.
"This won't be Maradona's, (Socrates) Zico's or (Karl-Heinz) Rummenigge's World Cup," the Argentine star told reporters as the second round was getting under way. "This will be the World Cup of a team. Only if a good team has a particularly talented player will he be able to do anything special."
World Cups are usually dominated by one or two players who leave a mark on the tournament and on the game itself by virtue of the personality they project.
In 1978, it was Mario Kempes of Argentina. In 1974, Johann Cruyff and Franz Beckenbauer led their teams from The Netherlands and West Germany, respectively, into the final.
Pele and his Brazilian teammate, Gerson, were the dominant figures of the 1970 World Cup in Mexico, and the 1966 championships would have been unthinkable without Bobby Charlton of England. Pele again comes to mind in 1962 and 1958, although in 1958, he had to share center stage with a teammate, Garrincha.
The three names mentioned by Maradona--himself, Zico of Brazil and West Germany's Rummenigge--were the ones most often mentioned before the 1982 World Cup, when international experts tried to predict this year's big star.
None of the three has emerged, and expert opinion here varies as to why.
Beckenbauer, who has joined the ranks of former players turned journalists covering this year's cup, discussed the question here before Thursday's semifinal between his old West German team and France.
"I think it might be because today's emphasis is on an athletic style of play. More running and tighter marking leaves less room, less space for the great individualists," Beckenbauer said.
Other observers here pointed out that the big names coming into the tournament--and there have been any number of them--have tended to get special defensive treatment. Often, they have been assigned a shadow, someone who guards the player man to man all over the field. This happened to Maradona against Italy, when Claudio Gentile marked him out of the match. Yet Maradona also had trouble against tough zone defenses used by the Belgians and Brazilians.
Others mentioned before the tournament as possible game-breakers were Zbigniew Boniek and Grzegorz Lato of Poland, Paolo Rossi and Dino Zoff of Italy, Paul Breitner of West Germany, Oleg Blokhine of the Soviet Union and Michel Platini of France.
Kevin Keegan frequently was mentioned as a potential star, but he was injured before the competition and played only briefly in England's last cup game, against Spain.
The most popular choice for superstar status was Maradona, 21, widely praised as the "next Pele."
Maradona, who recently was sold to SC Barcelona for more than $7 million, had subpar performances in all but one of his five games, the exception being a two-goal performance coupled with a world-class field game against Hungary in a match won by Argentina, 4-1.
Maradona left World Cup play in Barcelona with a disappointing game against Brazil in which he was expelled for a nasty revenge-foul in the closing minutes.
"This looks like it's going to be the year of the collective," Zico, one of the tournament's strongest players, said before his team--viewed by many as the best in the tournament--was ousted. "I'm not as important for Brazil as Maradona is for Argentina. If I'm shut out, we've got three other people who can establish our game."
As for Rummenigge, he was voted by journalists as the best player in the first round, but he has been bothered by a thigh injury and, despite a three-goal performance against Chile, hasn't played with the spark that made him Europe's player of the year the past two seasons.
Perhaps the best individual performance in Spain has been that of Boniek in Poland's 3-0 win over Belgium. He scored three goals, including one on a play he started about 30 yards in his own half. He nearly created two or three other goals in the game, and overshadowed another fine performance by his teammate Lato, who was all over the field and kept the defense busy.
Boniek, who also had a strong game in Poland's 5-1, first-round win over Peru, missed his chance to emerge as the top World Cup star by collecting a second yellow card, which forced him to miss the semifinal game against Italy.
Rossi's three-goal performance against Brazil was impressive, but his overall game was not as strong. Furthermore, he played four below-average games before he found his way to his current form. His two goals against Poland in the semifinal Thursday were both opportunistic and a little lucky, and otherwise, he played rather poorly.
During Italy's 2-0 win over Poland, Boniek sat quietly in the stands at Nou Camp Stadium, obviously aware that his not being in the lineup was a major factor in his team's loss.
Boniek, who will be joining Rossi's Juventus team in Turin along with Platini of France next year, said after his big game against the Belgians that he did not think he was the best player in this year's cup, but, "I would like at least to be the top scorer, I suppose."
This honor now seems likely to fall to Rossi or Rummenigge, who have each scored five goals going into Sunday's final. But no matter who scores the most goals, the general feeling here still is that this has not been a good year for World Cup superstars.