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Ultimate World Cup Eleven

By Tom Niblett.

With the 2010 World Cup nearly upon us, it got me thinking of all the great players that have graced the competition. Since 1930 the planets best players have gathered to showcase their talents to the watching world, but which ones have been the best?

The following is my opinion on the World Cup best eleven of all time. Before I begin I will explain that I am basing my selection purely on how players played at the tournaments themselves, regardless of other exploits elsewhere; here goes….


Dino Zoff – The Italian went to four World Cups and holds the record for the longest playing time without allowing a goal in an international tournament (1142 minutes) set between 1972 and 1974. His crowing glory was captaining the Azzurri to victory in 1982. At forty years of age he is the oldest ever winner of the World Cup.

Right Back

Cafu – Born Marcos Evangelista de Moraes the Brazilian graced four Fifa tournaments, playing in three consecutive finals. In total he made twenty-one appearances at the World Cup. Will forever be remembered for his seemingly boundless energy, constantly providing a threat to the opposition with his overlapping runs. Rather surprisingly never made a Fifa World Cup All Star team, no worries he makes my team!

Centre Back

Franz Beckenbauer – Der Kaiser was a member of the German World Cup squads that finished runners-up in 1966, third place in 1970, and champions in 1974. Amazingly finished third top goalscorer in 1966. Quite remarkable considering he played the whole tournament as a sweeper. His moment of glory came in 1974 where his majestic performance nullified the considerable threat of one Johan Cruyff.

Centre Back

Bobby Moore – The only English man to make my team. Forever immortalised in our collective memories for leading the boys of 66’. His other World Cup in Mexico 1970 was massively disrupted with false accusations of the theft of a bracelet from a Columbian jeweler. He still managed to produce one of the iconic moments of the tournament though; his precise tackle on Jairzinho will live long in the memory.

Left Back

Paolo Maldini – The only member of the team to have not actually won the World Cup; finishing as a runner up in USA 94. Regardless the classy full back deserves his spot. Captained his country in two world cups and made the tournament select eleven twice, 1990 & 1994.

Right Wing

Garrincha – Manuel Francisco dos Santos, a truly remarkable character and player. Born with a defect of the spine and one leg six centimeters shorter than the other; it would seem that the odds were against him being a world class footballer. Won the World Cup in 1958 and 62, being named in the tournament eleven on both occasions. Led a flamboyant existence away from the pitch; notorious incidents include several drinking binges, running over his own father and purchasing a dog that pissed all over Jimmy Greaves. A natural choice as my captain!

Centre Mid

Lothar Matthäus – The German midfield maestro played in an amazing five world cups, 82, 86, 90, 94, and 98. He also holds the record for most appearances at the finals, twenty-five! His best tournament was in 1990 where he captained West Germany to their third consecutive final, where they beat Argentina 1-0. His goal against Yugoslavia in that tournament must rank as one of the best of all time.

Centre Mid

Pele – No World Cup eleven could possibly be without the great man, Edison Arantes do Nascimento. Burst onto the international scene aged just seventeen at 1958 World Cup, scoring his first national team goal against Wales. He followed that with a hat-trick against France in the semi-final but only managed two in the final against Sweden! He missed the majority of the 62 World Cup and was brutally kicked out of the 66 competition by the Portuguese. He crowned his international career as the focal point of the wonderful Brazil side of 1970, littering the tournament with many memorable moments, including a goal in the final against Italy.

Left Wing

Diego Maradona – Played most of his career from a central position but will have to do with a spot on the wing for this team, something tells me that he would be okay. At the height of his powers he single handedly led Argentina to glory in 86. Unable to do the same in 1990 but was again named in the select eleven. Notorious for his off-field activities, he and Garrincha would certainly keep the manager on his toes.


Gerd Muller – Short, fat and slow but ultimately deadly, just ask Peter Bonetti. Will be best remembered for his winning goal against the Dutch in 1974, however his best tournament was four years previous where he dominated the goal scoring charts with ten goals.


Ronaldo – No, not the Portuguese winker but the Brazilian striker. The all time leading goalscorer at the World Cup with fifteen goals. Went to USA 94 as a 17-year-old but did not play, and was famously innocuous in the 1998 final. More than made up for it in 2002 though; scoring eight goals including the opener in Brazil’s 2-0 victory of Germany in the final. Blotted his tournament copybook however with a frankly bizarre hairstyle.


Mario Zagallo – The Brazilian could well feel aggrieved for having not made the starting eleven; to make up for it he can be the coach! Produced in my humble opinion the greatest side of all time, in the shape of the 1970 Brazil team. His revolutionary tactics of 5-3-2 with wingbacks bombing forward simply overwhelmed opposition. In 1994 he got his hands on the Jules Rimet trophy again when he assisted Carlos Alberto Parrerria. France 1998 saw Zagallo make his fifth attempt at glory (two as a player) when he once again had the top job; but for the now infamous Ronaldo debacle he may well have succeeded.

Honourable mentions – So many; where to begin. No Zidane, Cruyff, Puskas or even Luis Monti (played in 1930 for Argentina and then won 1934 with Italy, answers on a postcard please!). Just not enough room!

Disagree with my selections? Think you know better? Have your say and name your ultimate World Cup team…

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