The 30 greatest international teams of all time

Brazil team of 1970

"The greatest expression football as art": Brazil 1970

5. Italy 1934-38

Points: 304

Only the passing of decades and the identification with Il Duce have ensured this team isn’t as celebrated as it should be outside Italy. But then Vittorio Pozzo’s side accumulated records that Benito Mussolini couldn’t but trumpet: most of all, they became the first of just two teams to retain the World Cup. In between they also won Olympic gold while losing only three games over five years.

As such, it was inevitable that the Fascists would fixate on such success to promote their supposed superiority. But Italian football was already on the up before the Black Shirts came to power. And, in truth, the only deeper link between the state and the team was in the style of management. Although a liberal-monarchist himself, Pozzo presided over the side like a dictator. Adopting a “semi-militaristic approach to the game”, as the book Calcio puts it, Pozzo claimed he “never lost sight of my players, not even for a minute”.

The result was a team that was super-fit and physical… but not without a large degree of fantasy. Because Pozzo also enjoyed one of the most gifted ever Italian generations. With the squad founded on a Juventus core that had won five successive scudetto, it was finished off by two of the greatest forwards in Italian history. Giuseppe Meazza and Silvio Piola are two of only three Italians to have scored more than 200 goals in Serie A. But, other than their outstanding ability, that was about all they had in common. Meazza was Italian football’s first true superstar, Piola an antidivo who didn’t drink and shunned fine.

For the national team, however, they complemented each other perfectly. Many said that about the conditions and the squad as a whole as they won that first World Cup in their own country. But they banished all doubts by doing it again in France four years later.

Tournament record: 1934 World Cup winners, 1938 winners
Manager: Vittorio Pozzo
Best XI: Combi; Monzeglio, Allemandi; Ferraris, Monti, Bertolini; Guaita, Meazza, Piola, Ferrari, Orsi

 

4. France 1998-2001

Points: 318

As David Trezeguet thundered the ball into the Italian net to win Euro 2000, Dider Deschamps later admitted to stopping in the centre circle and thinking “it’s never going to get any better than this”. Certainly, very few will ever surpass it. France’s run of winning the World Cup, the continental championship and the Confederations Cup in quick succession remains unmatched in Europe. Along the way, they also only lost two competitive games while layering sheer quality onto cast-iron resolve.

It was the latter they most needed to start the cycle though. It’s astonishing now to think how disregarded the French team were ahead of the 1998 World Cup. But Aime Jacquet rallied the team to eventually drive to the trophy with the meanest defence the World Cup has ever seen.

As often happens with such besieged sides, that maiden conquest gave them the confidence to take things to the next level. But France didn’t just jump up. They made a quantum leap.

Euro 2000 has since gone down as one of the great tournaments given the exquisite attacking football on show. And no-one defined that more than its champions. With the team centred around Zinedine Zidane in a 4-5-1 formation before it became fashionable, France produced all manner of magnificent angles. Indeed, in a rare instance of arrogance the week before the final, Zidane even admitted that “at 28, I’m at the pinnacle of my art”.

But France still needed craft to take them over the line. Sylvain Wiltord’s 93rd-minute equaliser in the final emphasised both their resources and their resolve. As Roger Lemerre said afterwards, “it is the willpower of the team that did it… the miracle happened and we caused it.” One of his deputies backed this up: “Zidane is merely a vital ingredient in the social chemistry of a squad whose members relish their closeness so much it seems as though as individuals they belong to a club called France.”

Typically, it was when that unravelled in the build-up to 2002 that France did too. For a time though, it was difficult to see how Deschamps could possibly be wrong.

Tournament record: 1998 World Cup win, Euro 2000 win, 2001 Confederations Cup win
Manager: Aime Jacquet, Roger Lemerre
Best XI: Barthez; Thuram, Lizerazu, Blanc, Desailly; Deschamps, Vieira; Henry, Zidane, Djourkaeff; Trezeguet

 

3. Brazil 1958-62

Points: 319

Perfection required a path to be laid. And the Brazil side of 1958 broke the mould in more ways than one. Aside from winning that long-desired first World Cup, the 4-2-4 formation they pioneered blew away football and almost everyone that came up against it.

In 1958, for example, they had won both the semi-final and final 5-2 against France and Sweden respectively. “There was no doubt this time,” as Brian Glanville wrote in his history of the tournament, “that the best, immeasurably the finest, team had won.”

Aside from a collective, however, they were also gifted some of the greatest talents the game has ever seen. Most famously, a 17-year-old Pele proclaimed his pedigree in 1958. But, even when he got injured in Chile four years later, Garrincha only took his performance to greater heights. It led Benfica’s great manager Bela Guttmann to remark that “tactics are for everybody… but they are not valid for him.”

Many opposition sides found that the same applied to the team as a whole.

All that really keeps them behind Spain and their own successors in 1970 are the two draws that punctured otherwise perfect World Cups as well as the fact they couldn’t claim a South American championship. As such, they may not have been perfect. But they were certainly on the way there.

Tournament record: 1958 World Cup win, 1959 (March) South American championship runner-up, 1959 (December) South American championship third place, 1962 World Cup win
Manager: Vicente Feola, Aymore Moreira
Best XI: Gilmar; Djalma Santos, Nilton Santos, Bellini; Zito, Orlando; Garrincha, Didi, Vava, Pele, Zagallo

 

2. Spain 2007-10

Points: 325

In some eyes, the small margins of Spain’s four successive 1-0 wins on the way to the 2010 World Cup took the gloss off their glory. But that’s probably looking at things from the wrong perspective.

Because it shouldn’t be forgotten that they euphorically waltzed their way to the European Championships with some wondrous football two years prior. Indeed, the exact quality of the football caught many teams by surprise. Built on a core of players from Barcelona’s youth system, Spain had a club-style cohesion that no modern international side could hope to match.

Just like Barca, they controlled the ball with their passing and then controlled the space with their pressing. Indeed, no international team has ever utterly dominated individual matches in the manner Spain did. And, given that they did that in every game they played, it is no surprise that it was reflected on a grander scale. Between 2007 and the end of the World Cup, Spain produced the most relentless sequence in international history: they won an emphatic 49 games out of 54 (91%) while only losing twice.

But it all meant that, by the start of the South African World Cup, most teams knew it was suicide to go toe to toe with Spain. As such, they echoed Jose Mourinho at Inter and blocked up as much space around their own goal as possible.

“What did people think?” Xavi asked on the eve of the final. “That we were going to win every game 3-0? I can’t believe what I am hearing sometimes. Do you not realise how hard it is? Teams aren’t stupid. We’re European champions, they all pressure like wolves. There isn’t a single metre, not a second on the pitch. Always 10 men behind the ball putting pressure on.”

The effect ensured a tournament performance that was in stark contrast to the abandon of the Euros. Spain passed and passed and passed until some people passed out… but, ultimately, they found away.

The only blip, and a bare one at that, was the reversal to the USA in the Confederations Cup semi-finals. It is that smallest of margins, by contrast, that keeps them off the top. But possibly only temporarily. Because they still have the core squad, the consistency and the quality to make it a unique treble in Euro 2012.

Tournament record: Euro 2008 winners, 2009 Confederations Cup semi-finals, 2010 World Cup winners
Manager: Luis Aragones, Vicente Del Bosque
Best XI: Casillas; Ramos, Capdevila, Puyol, Pique; Busquets, Xavi, Iniesta, David Silva; Torres, Villa

 

1. Brazil 1970-73

Points: 326

Gerson would concede no ground. “Our team was the best. Those who saw it, saw it. Those who didn’t will never see it again.”

What they missed was perfection. Seven wins from seven and the most irresistible attack the World Cup has ever seen in both stats and style. Brilliant individuals produced individual moments of brilliance that will forever remain burned on football’s collective memory: Carlos Alberto’s ball for Jairzinho against England, Rivelino’s free-kick, Tostao’s technique… But crescendo fittingly came in Carlos Alberto’s eight-man team goal. Or, as so many have said in the time since, “the highest expression of football as art”.

“Those last minutes,” Hugh McIlvanney wrote in his match report, “contained a distillation of their football, its beauty and elan and almost undiluted joy. Other teams thrill us and make us respect them. The Brazilians at their finest gave us pleasure so natural and deep as to be a vivid physical experience… it was the apogee of football.”

If, unlike Pele’s pass for the goal, it seems obvious to have this team at the top, well then consider that the only complaint you could possibly have (other than necessarily lax defending) is that they never repeated it at another major tournament.

But they didn’t get the chance. With no Copa America in between, the core of the side had gone by the 1974 World Cup and, in any case, had remained unbeaten for three years after 1970.

At their best, as in this list, no-one could top them.

Tournament record: 1970 World Cup win
Manager: Mario Zagallo
Best XI: Felix; Carlos Alberto, Everaldo, Brito, Piazza; Clodoaldo, Gerson; Jairzinho, Rivelino, Tostao, Pele

 

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120 comments
quinnap
quinnap

 @SamHowlett Bayern München 2013 are not one of the greatest international teams of all time. Nor are they an international team. But maybe you mean they should be included on the club page.

quinnap
quinnap

Tiny point, there are only 10 players in the USSR 60-68 best 11. I vote for the inclusion of Mamykin because he sounds like a pet name for one's Mum. Or Chislenko, coz he sounds handsome. Although there are probably enough forwards.

SamHowlett
SamHowlett

Perhaps you are overrating Spain (2007-10). The 2nd  best team of all time? What happened to Argentina 86, Netherlands 74? So I’m watching the best soccer of all times when Spain plays? I doubt so with all due respect

MVirt
MVirt

I have to correct one thing: in 1970 Brazil didn't win 7 matches out of 7 because the tournament only had 16 teams and six matches for winners. That Brazil did however also win all their qualifying matches. 

Fluminense
Fluminense

Hey Hendrik what do you smoked? Nothing can be compared to Brazilian football...The best football was Brazil 70/73 ... after the Brazil 58-62 ... but ... Let´s compared the titles of Brazil 2002/2006 against Spain today:  see ...1 world cup unbeaten, two confederations Cup and more two American Cup ...The actuality of Spain does not compare with the facts, the statistics and the magic of Brazilian football ...

HendrikMartz
HendrikMartz

Spain has to be No 1. No other Team did what they did. Surely not pretty all time, but then again who plays pretty all time, eh?

Spain all the way. The best Team of all time. 

Sablicious
Sablicious

People who know football (beyond "oh! spain teh best, yo!") know 'The Golden Team' of Hungary c.1950s is the best team.  Not only for how long they stayed on top, but also who and HOW they beat them.

 

The only blemish is being robbed of the World Cup by Adi Dassler football studs.

vellhuan
vellhuan

this needs an update!

 

GuillaumeKosmala
GuillaumeKosmala

You're going to have to update the list with what Spain just did. Do you think they now deserve the top spot?

Filipe Guerra
Filipe Guerra

I've only seen the teams who missed out now. I have to agree!!! :(

Filipe Guerra
Filipe Guerra

But Portugal had a great side. One player doesn't do it all

Derek Hopper
Derek Hopper

I'm not sure they'd have beaten North Korea without Eusebio :)

Filipe Guerra
Filipe Guerra

How come the portugal 66 doesn't have space in the big 30? The qualification was great and the world cup fenomenal. There is also portugal 2000 - 2006. Surely one final and two thirds isn't easy to get!

Football Pantheon
Football Pantheon

Haha, know what you mean. Whatever way you dress it up though, they lost all three games to the teams who won their tournaments. That has to stand against them.

Derek Hopper
Derek Hopper

Last week I predicted Brazil '70 and the Mighty Magyar team to be numbers one and two. But having pored over the top ten as is I think you did really well. There is obviously a mathematical system to it but I can't help thinking the Dutch mid-70s team was hard done by with that tenth place finish!

Derek Hopper
Derek Hopper

Would Hungary have been further up the list if they'd won the World Cup in '54?

Derek Hopper
Derek Hopper

Good to see the Danish Dynamo team from the mid-eighties being acknowledged. They played some mighty football. I remember pretending to be Jesper Olsen when I got my first Man United shirt.

Al3x
Al3x

Cameroon not Colombia, sorry, and they didn't get past quarter finals either.

As for Euro '92, we never had much luck in the Euro competition, we finished 3rd in the qualification at that time, with 10p same as Switzerland, and Scotland was first with just 11p. As you can see it was a very close group and luck and misfortune decided the winners, not the players kill. We qualified for Euro '96 though, but we were in group with Spain and France and was very difficult eliminate one of them so we didn't get to quarter- finals. Bad luck was out the window in Euro 2000 when got passed the toughest group, Group A with Germany, England and Portugal but we found it once more with the allucky Italy and we lost 2-0 after a tense match. There you go! So... all in all I think you are just making excuses for you're choices! Peru won a very weak competition, once, and Scotland's first team was a unimpressive team who won nothing. I really don't understand you, you say Romania don't deserve to be there but some of you're facts are wrong, you can't justify you're choice and neither the choice for selecting these teams I showed you. So to say we won something, cause you say football isn't only about World Cups, I can say we won the Balkan Cup 4 times, a record. That was a small competition like CONCACAF and lasted until 1980 so we didn't with that with our '94 team. If this doesn't solve your negative retrospective of Romania 1990-2000 I don't know what will.

Al3x
Al3x

If you don't even know your facts why do you write about football??? Romania did not get knocked out of group stage in 1994, they made it to quarter-finals in 1994 ! They finished in Round of 16 in 1990 and 1998, all three ended with a draw and all lost on penalties! And your reasons are insufficient: Denmark didn't make it past quarter-finals and you put it twice, Peru stopped there too, Colombia only in last 16 and Scotland a crummy Round 1 as best performance, yet you still found a spot for them. They don't even come close to Romania '90-'98.

Al3x
Al3x

What about Romania '90 - '98, I seriously can't believe u didn't put it even on the teams that missed out !!! 2-0 URSS, 1-1 Argentina, 3-1 Colombia, 1-0 USA, 3-2 Argentina, 1-0 Colombia, 2-1 England. Trashing the top favorite teams to win in one sided matches even if the score doesn't suggest it, playing the most fluid football since Brazil 1970 and only missed out because of penalties and bad luck ! Most of those players had at least one UEFA Champions League Cup!

adamrhbrown
adamrhbrown

Again, cannot really argue against Brazil 1970 being the top choice, even if there is a strong case to be made for their immediate predecessors, who probably deserve to at least be second. Glad to hear this list will be expanded to 50 teams. Harder though to measure definitive results for international sides I'd have thought though. Look at the anomalies that even the definitive World Rankings throw up from time to time. Host nations go two years without playing a proper match for a start (and have that crucial advantage when they do).

And look at what that ONE defeat - coming after they'd been unfairly knackered by a World Cup draw born of timeless FIFA idiocy - does for the rating of that Hungary team! Defines the unfairness of ranking based on knockout football. Similar for Holland of the 70s.

Have to say that, for me, the best in my (brief) lifetime would be turn-of-the-millennium France rather than modern Spain, who may win all their games but lack the cut-and-thrust spark you really want to see (unlike the Barcelona team some of them play in I have to say). Hypnotism rather than exoticism. Though I was happy they won the 'double'. At least they know what to do with the ball.

dony
dony

Sorry, but are you serious? try to check player by player the top 3 teams, if you do not have a clue 5 out of starting 11 of the Brazilian team at WC 1958 are considered the best-all time in their position in Brazil, Gilmar, Didi,Djalma Santos, Pele and Garrincha ( Brazil never lost a match with Pele and Garrincha palying together), that national team won the WC 1962 without Pele!, and the Brazilian team without Pele was a fiasco in 1974!, also you are NOT really caring about the quality of opposition that Brazilian team destroyed the French team with Kopa and Fontaine, also was the only South American team which won a WC in European soil...................

diskomonkey
diskomonkey

The 1970-73 Brazil team probably was the best team of all time, but going on your scoring system, surely the 58-62 team is better?

Boydo
Boydo

Where does the Dutch side of 1992 - 1994 fit in. The arrival of Dennis Bergkamp and the young Ajax players makes it a different team than the 88 - 90 generation. WC Quarterfinal against Brazil in Dallas was 45 minutes of great football.

ChristianMohrBoisen
ChristianMohrBoisen

Nice. HOWEVER, you need to check the stats AND the reports/archives on Denmark 1981-86 once again. You need to read what Bobby Robson, Michel Platini, et al, have said, then and in retrospect, about this outstanding team.

je_mc2
je_mc2

Miguel, this is a great list. i just wonder why Egypt 2006-2010 are missing. 3 Nations' Cup trophies in a row, 19 games unbeaten at the tournament. They are most consistent African side of the last decade. The only blemish is that they never made the '06 or 2010 World Cup.

adamrhbrown
adamrhbrown

 @SamHowlett The order is calculated by how dominant a team is in their given era, not necessarily where the authors think they'd be in a league table, and certainly not by how exciting they were to watch. As the site says, it's the only given that you can truly compare teams of 10/25/50 years difference with - their numbers.

 

Course, the best side doesn't always win a cup competition but there are so many variables that it's impossible to draw up a truly calculated list. And, being stats-based, this is probably still closer than someone's opinion. Probably.

SamHowlett
SamHowlett

Maybe you should add Bayern München 2013

QuangPham
QuangPham

 @MVirt But they won all 6 matches in the qualification (total 12 matches) which made them the only team to win every single match that involved with the World Cup. They were also unbeated for 3 yrs from 1970 to 1973 and only defeated after Pele and other players in squad retired.

MiguelDelaney
MiguelDelaney

@Al3x You also seemed to have failed the grasp of 'cycles' in teams. Hoe exactly could we include Romania's Balkan Cup wins in with the sides from 1990-98... they were completely different teams, with different players and managers. Have you got any grasp of what this list is about at all? Did you not noticed the way there are a number of Brazil teams here?

MiguelDelaney
MiguelDelaney

@Al3x By the way: you see the way you confused Colombia for Cameroon? That was the same way we confused 94 or 96. It was a momentary accident. We *knew* Romania got knocked out of the World Cup 94 in the quarter-finals. Our entire list is based on facts. Look through it properly.

MiguelDelaney
MiguelDelaney

@Al3x Hang on a minute mate. Other than one comment which included a typo - and had absolutely nothing to do with how this list was ranked - absolutely none of our facts were wrong. They were all 100% right and we checked it.

I really don't see how a team who never got past a quarter-finals and never won an international tournament can be considered among the very greatest of all time.

Bear in mind, too, that those Peru and Scotland sides you mention are not in the list. They're in the teams that missed out.

And what, by the way, do you know about Scotland of the late 1800s, who you label as "unimpressive"?

And even if we had have included the Balkan Cup, it wouldn't have got Romania into this list.

And, once again, I'd like you to point out which of our facts are wrong? Go on? Tell us. Because I can assure, none of them in the actual ranking are.

Also, who said we were negative about Romania? They were a great team to watch. That's different to being one of the greatest ever though.

MiguelDelaney
MiguelDelaney

@Al3x Plus, Romania didn't even qualify for Euro 92. International football isn't only about World Cups you know?

MiguelDelaney
MiguelDelaney

@Al3x It was a typo mate. They got knocked out of the group stage in Euro 96.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@Boydo The fact they "only" got to the quarter-finals in 1994 mitigated against them unfortunately.

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@ChristianMohrBoisen I have read everything they've said and they are one of my personal favourite teams of all time... but that doesn't alter the fact that they went out in the last 16 of the 1986 World Cup which heavily mitigated against them

MDelaneyST
MDelaneyST moderator

@je_mc2 Many thanks mate. And unfortunately that's precisely why. Given the high weighting of the World Cup in the formula, they missed out by about 30 or 40 points. Had they won that play-off with Algeria!

Al3x
Al3x

@MiguelDelaney :)) Ok, I see what you are doing here. If you have some grudge on our team for some matches your team may have lost, although I don't know your national team, then my words are pointless. I did say Romania wasn't even on the teams that misses out you put in your list, and If you think we didn't even have the Team to consider WC '94 a miss then...

MiguelDelaney
MiguelDelaney

@Al3x Peru actually won a tournament. We were talking about the first Scotland team, not their entire history.

MiguelDelaney
MiguelDelaney

@MiguelDelaney As for "knowing our facts", it's an obscure typo in a massive list man. We stand by our knowledge, which I think you'll find is difficult to pick holes in beyond simple mistakes. Again, Romania don't deserve to be there.

And where did you get Colombia from? They appear nowhere in the list!

MiguelDelaney
MiguelDelaney

@Al3x Why would we have a grudge against Romania?? They were great to watch. But we were trying to decide the most successful international teams of all time. Romania were successful. But they were not among the most successful of all time.

Al3x
Al3x

@MiguelDelaney Cameroon not Colombia, sorry, and they didn't get past quarter finals either.

As for Euro '92, we never had much luck in the Euro competition, we finished 3rd in the qualification at that time, with 10p same as Switzerland, and Scotland was first with just 11p. As you can see it was a very close group and luck and misfortune decided the winners, not the players kill. We qualified for Euro '96 though, but we were in group with Spain and France and was very difficult eliminate one of them so we didn't get to quarter- finals. Bad luck was out the window in Euro 2000 when got passed the toughest group, Group A with Germany, England and Portugal but we found it once more with the allucky Italy and we lost 2-0 after a tense match. There you go! So... all in all I think you are just making excuses for you're choices! Peru won a very weak competition, once, and Scotland's first team was a unimpressive team who won nothing. I really don't understand you, you say Romania don't deserve to be there but some of you're facts are wrong, you can't justify you're choice and neither the choice for selecting these teams I showed you. So to say we won something, cause you say football isn't only about World Cups, I can say we won the Balkan Cup 4 times, a record. That was a small competition like CONCACAF and lasted until 1980 so we didn't with that with our '94 team. If this doesn't solve your negative retrospective of Romania 1990-2000 I don't know what will.

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