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Top 10 FIFA World Cup Teams

The Holy Grail of soccer The Holy Grail of soccer

Whether you call it soccer or football, the world’s game is a beautiful thing. The grandest stage for the sport is the FIFA World Cup, and this year marks the first time in history that the tournament will take place on the continent of Africa. With the 2010 installment of the footie classic set for the country of South Africa this summer, Rosebud takes a look at ten of the greatest World Cup teams of all time.

These teams range from powerhouses to surprises, from the near ancient to the recent. Some of the teams featured stars who changed the game forever, and quite a few were the subject of controversy. Since its inception, the World Cup has been where legends are made. Who tops the list?

10. Hungary 1954

Possibly the best team to never win the World CupPossibly the best team to never win the World CupThis was one of the best national squads in history, but they couldn’t get the job done at the World Cup. The Hungarian team of 1954 is possibly the best team to never win the big one.

Known as “The Magical Magyars,” Hungary went undefeated for four years leading up to the “Miracle of Berne,” when West Germany handed them their first loss and did it in the finals of the World Cup.

Hungary entered the 1954 World Cup looking undefeatable. They embarrassed Europe’s #2 team twice in 1953 by defeating England 6-3 at Wembley Stadium and then 7-1 back in Budapest.

In the World Cup itself, they demolished South Korea 9-0 before toppling the defending champs from Uruguay 4-2. After losing to West Germany 3-2 in a shocking upset in the finals, Hungary went nearly two more years before its next loss.

9. The Netherlands 1974

Holland's Total Football revolutionized soccerHolland's Total Football revolutionized soccerHere’s another team that did everything but win the final match, and again it was the Germans playing spoiler. Nevertheless, the Dutch national team was probably the most captivating team the world had seen at that time.

Holland fielded a team that revolutionized soccer with its style of “Total Football,” which abolished traditional positions and had players jump into whatever role a situation called for.

The Dutch squad allowed just one goal in the first six matches of the 1974 World Cup, but couldn’t pull the trigger on the West German hosts, losing 2-1 in a shocking upset in the championship match.

8. France 1998

France's lone championship owes much to the controversial Zinedine ZidaneFrance's lone championship owes much to the controversial Zinedine ZidaneLed by Zinedine Zidane, France became just the seventh country to win a World Cup. And they did so as host country, leading to one of the most massive post-game celebrations in sports history.

Although he served a two game suspension early in the tournament, Zidane returned to lead the French team through the knock-out stage. France’s greatest footballer lived up to the pressure, scoring two headers off of corner kicks in the final.

France beat very good teams from Italy and Croatia en route to an embarrassing 3-0 victory over defending champs Brazil in the championship match. Their dominance in ’98 and Zidane’s star power, like the man or not, makes France’s World Cup winners an unforgettable soccer team.

7. Argentina 1986

Maradona was the closest thing to a one-man-team the sport has seenMaradona was the closest thing to a one-man-team the sport has seenDiego Maradona was a one-man force in 1986.  He was the tournament’s best player as he led Argentina to their second World Cup title, scoring all four of his team’s goals in the quarterfinals and semifinals, and setting up the winning goal in the finals.

One of those goals was the historical “Hand of God” goal versus England. Maradona punched the ball into the English net, but the referee missed the call. Later, Maradona said that the goal was partially due to the hand of God, instantly creating one of the most memorable moments in World Cup history.

Man for man, Argentina’s 1986 may not have been the most talented squad, but with Maradona playing like a world-beater, they didn’t have to be. This is as close to a one-man team was we are ever likely to see in soccer.

6. England 1966

1966 was the end and the beginning of a long drought for England1966 was the end and the beginning of a long drought for EnglandEngland won their first and only World Cup as the host country in 1966. Alf Ramsey masterminded the stingy style that led the English squad to victory and became a signature of the English style football that lasts today.

England didn’t give up a goal until the semifinals, when Portugal snuck one in. In the finals, England defeated the ever-present West Germans 4-2 after Geoff Hurst drained a hat trick, including the infamous “Ghost Goal,” which was awarded to England even though the ball seems not to have crossed the goal line.

Hurst also scored the only goal in an earlier game versus Argentina. It was another controversial game that fueled the Argentina/England soccer feud of the 20th century that included the aforementioned “Hand of God” controversy in 1986.

5. Brazil 1958

A 17 year old Pelé kickstarted his legend in 1958A 17 year old Pelé kickstarted his legend in 19581958 marked the coming out party of probably the greatest player to ever set foot on the pitch – Pelé. At just 17 years of age, Pelé was an unknown to start the World Cup that year, but by the time Brazil was celebrating its championship, Pelé was already on his way to becoming a household name.

Pelé didn’t start in Brazil’s first two games that year. Neither did fellow Brazilian superstar, Garrincha, but both debuted in the third game.

However, it wasn’t until the knockout stage that Pelé truly arrived. He scored his team’s only goal in the quarterfinal, then a hat trick in the semifinals, and two goals against host Sweden in the finals. Pelé’s six goals in three games was incredible, but that he did it at 17 years old is truly unbelievable.

Brazil dominated the semifinals and finals, winning each match 5-2, making them one of the most sensational teams in history.

4. Italy 1938

Italy was the first country to win back-to-back World CupsItaly was the first country to win back-to-back World CupsIn 1938, Italy became the first team to successfully defend a World Cup. The Italians built on their 1934 championship by roaring back four years later to earn another title.

Legendary manager Vittorio Pozzo built on his 1934 squad, holding onto veterans Giuseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari while building a new team around those two veterans.

Italy stumbled a bit in their first match, letting Norway hang around before taking a 2-1 decision. From there, the “Azzurri” were nearly untouchable, ousting host France, followed by Brazil, and then defeating Hungary 4-2 in the finals.

The next year, World War II commenced, putting a halt to the World Cup until 1950.

3. West Germany 1974

West Germany pulled off a championship upset on home field in 1974West Germany pulled off a championship upset on home field in 1974Earlier in this list, we covered the 1974 Dutch team. Well this West Germany squad was the team that pulled off the upset on home field against the “Total Football” golden team from Holland.

The host West Germans weren’t at their best through the whole tournament, but superstars Franz Beckenbauer, Gerd Muller, and goalkeeper Sepp Maier stepped up to lead their side to victory when it counted.

After losing to a so-so East Germany team in the first round of group play, West Germany went on to beat all comers. Those included a very strong squad from Poland, who otherwise went undefeated in earning a third place finish.

In the final, West Germany, toppled the Netherlands with Muller scoring the winning goal and retiring following the match with a career record of 68 goals in 62 games.

2. Italy 1982

After a slow start, Italy waltzed to their third World Cup titleAfter a slow start, Italy waltzed to their third World Cup titleThe 1982 Italian team started slowly, failing to win a single opening round game. In fact, had it not been for a blown call that disallowed a legitimate goal in the game between Cameroon and Peru, Cameroon would have advanced and Italy would have been out.

But Italy picked up its collective socks when it entered a veritable “Group of Death” with powerhouses Brazil and Argentina in Round 2. Claudio Gentile’s legendary job of marking Diego Maradona still holds up as one of the great defensive performances of all time, and helped his team to a 2-1 win over the Argentineans.

Then, versus Brazil, Paolo Rossi stepped up. After being held without a goal in the first four games, Rossi scored a hat trick in Italy’s 3-2 defeat of Brazil. Rossi scored three more times in the semifinals and finals to become the tournament’s leading scorer.

By the time Italy entered the knockout stage, they looked like far and away the best team in the world. They went on to blank Poland 2-0 and soundly defeat West Germany 3-1 for their third title.

1. Brazil 1970

The consensus best team everThe consensus best team everWidely considered the best soccer team to ever take the pitch, Brazil’s 1970 team hitting the top of this list should come as no surprise. In fact, one of the most astonishing things about this team is how little argument there is over the best ever team. Calling any player or team “the best ever” is typically an invitation to an argument, but not in the case of the 1970 Brazilians.

Brazil scored 19 goals in six games en route to their third World Cup title in 12 years. Pelé was in fine form, leading a monstrous squad of strikers that included fellow legends Jairzinho and Tostão.

No team was able to match Brazil, although defending champs England came closest, losing a 1-0 decision in group play. Brazil romped to the championship with a 4-1 defeat of Italy in the finals, securing their status as the greatest soccer team of all time. 

Uruguay 1930 and 1950

The 1950 Uruguay squad showed a ton of heart during their comeback in the final gameThe 1950 Uruguay squad showed a ton of heart during their comeback in the final gameIn 1930, Uruguay hosted and dominated the World Cup. With the exception of their 1-0 shutout of Peru, Uruguay won all of their games by two goals or more, including a 4-2 win in the finals over a very strong Argentina side.

In 1950, FIFA held the first post-war World Cup after having canceled the 1942 and 1946 editions due to WWII. This time Uruguay was far from dominant, but their indomitable will saw them come from behind in each of their three games in the Final Round.

The greatest of those comebacks was in the final match versus host Brazil at the legendary Maracana in Rio De Janeiro. Uruguay toppled Brazil in their own house 2-1 to win their second World Cup.

Both the 1930 and 1950 Uruguay teams could arguably be on this list, but just like the World Cup itself, the competition is fierce. For their contributions and achievements, the Uruguayan teams are acknowledged here for missing our list by the slimmest of margins.

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Last modified on Tuesday, 09 November 2010 20:14

Happy is a regular contributor to RosebudMag.com and has written for various other publications, including Black Belt, Inside Hockey, and FoxSports.com. He transitioned to life as a writer following a decade-long career as a touring musician. He lives with his son in Vancouver, British Columbia

Website: www.rosebudmag.com/hkreter

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