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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129 comments
mayurb4u
mayurb4u

why isn't Hungary in the top 5 ??? Ridiculous......they have been undefeated for 4 YEARS in the 50s....

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.

SvenMischkies
SvenMischkies

Ok, some remarks:

1) Titles pre WWII should count less, (50s as well) as the number of participants was much smaller.

2) Italy 1934 only made it to the final thanks to outside pressure on the referee, to put it mildly (uniformed, armed men visited him at half time....).

3) Not sure if the Copa should get the same amount of points as the EC, as it was played more frequently.

4) The Confed Cup shouldn't be counted at all, it's just a friendly tournament.

Virg1975
Virg1975

Bloody Firefox - had a long reply all typed out and it crashed!

@Electric_Micnic The Germans won on the day fair and square - Maier was a one-man wall, Vogts gave probably the best ever man-marking performance with his limpet-like attention to Cruyff and Muller was the greatest penalty box player ever, with the possible exception of Puskas. The Germans were a side in decline - the European Championship side in 1972 was better - see how they struggled against Chile, the DDR and really should have lost to a better Poland side. But they didn't - and deserved their win. The Dutch were on top in the second half - the introduction of Rene van der Kerkhof solidified the Dutch, and Rep and Neeskens were denied superbly by Maier. Muller was unfairly ruled offside with a breakaway - the Germans overall deserved it on the day. The Dutch paid for their 25 minutes of passivity - they played pretty triangles to humiliate the Germans, and it bit them on the arse.

In 1976, the Dutch were beaten before they even stepped on the pitch - in the leadup, they were squabbling about their Final appearance bonuses, so their minds weren't on the task ahead. I watched the excellent UEFA movie on the 1976 tournament - Willy van der Kerkhof freely admitted that their frame of mind was who the hell are Czechoslavakia', they vastly underrated them. Now any side with Viktor, Ondrus, Nehoda and Panenka are a very decent side - but they weren't world beaters. Nehoda stated that the monsoon conditions that night greatly helped them - the Dutch didn't adapt to the conditions well at all. The Czechs deserved to win that night, as they did overall - though the Germans were even more along the road of decline at that point. They very much were one tournament wonders - they failed to qualify for the next World Cup out of a group containing Scotland and Wales, finishing behind them. They were a side that peaked over a span of a few games against opponents that underestimated them - much like Denmark in 1992.

True, that side won nothing in the end - but did lose two consecutive finals to the home nation, the second one unluckily and in controversial circumstances. They were also hugely influential, especially in an era before the TV saturation age, leaving their tactical imprint beyond Europe and in major club and international sides in the intervening almost 40 years. While Ajax and Feyenoord developed the style and their players, the national side took it that step further - Michels himself lauded the input of the Feyenoord contingent. Same personnel for the most part as those successful club sides, so it's unfair to rank them lower than what should be the case. Still, this *is* a list where actual silver counts, so it's all moot!

Electric_Micnic
Electric_Micnic

Virg1975 I don't see how you could rank that Dutch team that never won anything as higher than tenth. This myth has grown up around them ((largely due to David Winner's superb but slightly biased Beautifal Oranje) that they could have won the 74 World Cup final if they had wanted to but were more interested in humiliating the Germans. The facts don't bear this out; Germany were almost a match for Germany in terms of flair (Beckenbauer, Overath) and won because they had a killer touch up front in the peerless Gerd Muller.

As for 1976 you're downplaying the talent in what was probably the best Czech team of all time and there is no guarantee they would have got by the Germans either.

They were genuinely unlucky in 1978 and were definitely the best team of the tournament, but for the reasons you've outlined already the tournament was devalued so much that no country could have taken much glory from winning it.

In terms of tactical development and pioneering attacking football the Dutch at the time were great, but that's more down to Ajax, and they managed to back up their potential with trophies, which is why they are ranked on this site as the best club side of all time. Yes Feyenoord contributed much to the Dutch side of the time but the Ajax team are the true pioneers of the period.

Virg1975
Virg1975

Extraordinarily harsh on the Dutch side of 74-78 putting them at number 10! The final in 1974 was truly the one that slipped away - as Simon Kuper put it, it was less than 30 years after the war, and the Dutch wanted to humiliate the Germans after Neeskens' penalty. Only a one man show by Maier kept the Germans ahead in the second half. Always felt sorry for van Hanegem - he lost his family in the war, and was in floods of tears at the final whistle. Their second half performance should have at least brought parity - and you can understand why they sat back after the goal. Shouldn't have done it though!

In 1976 - well, that was a clusterfuck of the highest order - and one that can be put down to the ego of players given too much free reign. Knobel was a poor coach (and the guiding hand for the break up of the great Ajax side) and left things go to pot. Clive Thomas' bizarre performance didn't help matters much.

In 1978 - well, what can you do against a bad referee (ask Rene van der Kerkhof), a hostile environment (the Dutch team coach was attacked on the way there, and were of course playing in Buenos Aires so a ferociously patriotic crowd and a military junta to boot - one Dutch player was infamously told that if Rensenbrink had scored, they woudn't have gotten out of the Monumental alive, by a member of the ruling Junta no less), a keeper in form (Fillol) and sheer ill-luck? Robbie Rensenbrink's shot should have gone in - but was deflected onto the post and away. They were the better side - but Kempes was unplayable that day.

They were a side that were *hugely* influential - and yes they should have won *something* - but given their influence over the development of top class football over the past 35 years, I'd stick them in the top five.

forxabarca
forxabarca

"His utter domination of the event was encapsulated in the glorious 54th minute against England. But, even by then, Maradona had gloriously shown his hand."

What a pun!

herrjemine
herrjemine

Great List!

What about Germany 2005-2010 though?

Played four tournaments, never finished below third. Only lost about six or seven competitive games in that time. Were top scorers both in 2006 and 2010.

Of course, they never really won anything, and shouldn't be in the top half of the list, but according to your methodology they get more than 200 points which should put them in the top 30.

And no team has been as consistently near the top in the 2000s.

IvanDujmić
IvanDujmić

Again a great post. Was your approach inspired by Why England Lose?

SolMuser
SolMuser

I would think that Brazil 1945-50 should be in there somewhere. They won the South American Championship in 1949, were runners up in 1946 and 1946, and of course there was the final in the 1950.

SakibMadridista
SakibMadridista

Even though I am a Spanish football supporter, I didn't really expect them to be ranked so high. I read so much negative things about them, it sometimes makes me doubt the quality of this team. The fact that they haven't had to change their style even in the most testing environments is the proof of their Greatness itself . That defeat against Switzerland would have been enough to derail many a great footballing sides. Great piece of work ! Cheers

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.

adhockley
adhockley

50s Hungary only at number 7? Romania 94 not even mentioned in the "teams that missed out" section? What have you people been smoking?

Seriously, Puskas era Hungary have to be in the top 3 at least. 7th is absolute madness.

gchikovani
gchikovani

Re: USSR in the 1960s, calling them "the Russians" isn't really accurate -- four of the best XI that you list Chokheli, Khurtsilava, Metreveli, and Meskhi are Georgians (not a bad contribution for a nation of 5 million of the USSR's 200 million total). None of those guys would answer to "Russian".

stefan_gla
stefan_gla

Glad to see Hungary in at 7th. A little worried they may of been overlooked due to the lack of silverware. Excellent work as ever Miguel!

josephsbcn
josephsbcn

Bit harsh on Uruguay's 20s & 30s side... "a small country were perhaps fortunate to be so ahead in development. But there was no denying Uruguay’s superiority."

Casts little light on to the revolutionary notions of the welfare state, well-nutritioned kids, side drawn from more than just a a working class background, immigrants.... and above all- the inclusion of black players. Foresight more than fortune perhaps.

That said- fantastic piece to this point, and a minor complaint. Really enjoying it Miguel.

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