The 11 greatest XIs in football history are named

  • Rob Swan
Barcelona's forward Pedro Rodriguez (R)

What is the greatest XI in football history?

It’s a very difficult question and one which is entirely down to personal opinion. There is no right or wrong answer.

Younger football fans may point to Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona XI, or perhaps the Spain team that dominated the international scene between 2008-2012.

Older football fans, on the other hand, may claim Brazil’s 1970 team or the famous Dutch side or the early-1970s are the greatest of all time.

Spanish newspaper Marca have put together their list of the greatest XIs in football history - so let’s take a closer look at their picks.

‘Spain’s triple crown’

This was Spain’s starting line-up for their Euro 2012 final against Italy, which they breezed to a comfortable 4-0 victory in Kiev.

The ‘tiki-taka’ maestros also previously won the 2010 World Cup and Euro 2008 finals during a period of dominance.

This team had class throughout the XI and it was virtually impossible to get the ball off them.

Top: Iker Casillas, Alvaro Arbeloa, Xabi Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique.

Bottom: David Silva, Andres Iniesta, Xavi, Cesc Fabregas, Jordi Alba.


‘Brazil’s 1970 champions’

An iconic team, regarded by many as the greatest ever, Brazil had already won the World Cup twice before 1970 (in 1958 and 1962).

But the Seleção lit up the 1970 World Cup finals in Mexico, playing a thrilling brand of football that had never been seen before.

Top: Carlos Alberto, Brio, Felix, Piazza, Clodoaldo, Everaldo.

Bottom: Jairzinho, Gerson, Tostao, Pele, Rivelino.


‘Real Madrid's five-time European champions’

Real Madrid have won the European Cup a record-breaking 13 times during their illustrious history, five of which came in successive years from 1956.

Los Blancos dominated Europe’s premier club competition during its formative years, inspired by the legendary Alfredo di Stefano.

The likes of Paco Gento, Ferenc Puskas and Raymond Kopa also wrote their names into football folklore during the late-1950s and early-1960s.

Top: Juanito Alonso, Marquitos, Jose Santamaria, Rafael Lesmes, Juan Santisteban, Jose Maria Zarraga.

Bottom: Raymond Kopa, Hector Rial, Alfredo di Stefano, Ferenc Puskas, Paco Gento.


‘Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona’

The best club side we’ve ever seen? They’re right up, that’s for sure.

Pep Guardiola turned this group of players into an unstoppable force between 2008-2012, during which the club won three La Liga titles and two Champions League.

In Lionel Messi, this team boasted arguably the greatest footballer of all time.

Top: Eric Abidal, Pedro, Javier Mascherano, Sergio Busquets, Gerard Pique, Victor Valdes.

Bottom: Lionel Messi, Dani Alves, David Villa, Andreas Iniesta, Xavi.


‘Franz Beckenbauer's Bayern Munich’

Bayern Munich won the European Cup in three successive seasons during the mid-1970s (in 1974, 1975 and 1976).

They kept clean sheets in all three finals (against Atletico Madrid, Leeds United and Saint-Etienne) thanks largely to Franz Beckenbauer, possibly the best defender we’ve ever seen.

Top: Franz Beckenbauer, Franz Roth, Franz Krauthausen, Udo Lattek (coach), Hans-Georg Schwarzenbeck, Gerd Muller, Uli Hoeness.

Bottom: Wilhelm Hofmann, Johnny Hansen, Sepp Maier, Schneider, Bernd Durnberger.


‘The Oranje machine of 1974’

Netherlands may have lost the 1974 and 1978 World Cup finals, but they are still rightfully regarded as one of the best teams in history.

Famous for their style of ’total football’ and led by the masterful Johan Cruyff on the pitch, Rinus Michels's team set a new international benchmark for how to play the beautiful game.

Top: Barry Hulshoff, Piet Schrijvers, Aad Mansveld, Wim Suurbier, Johan Neeskens, Ruud Krol.

Bottom: Arie Haan, Johan Cruyff, Arnold Muhren, Johnny Rep, Rob Rensenbrink.


‘Zinedine Zidane's triple Champions League winners’

No team had successfully retained the Champions League in its current format, yet alone win it three times in a row. But Zinedine Zidane somehow masterminded Los Blancos to a magnificent treble between 2016-2018.

Los Blancos defeated Atletico Madrid, Juventus and Liverpool in the three finals to further enhance their status as the greatest club side of all time.

Cristiano Ronaldo was, of course, the team’s key man.

Top: Keylor Navas, Sergio Ramos, Raphael Varane, Karim Benzema, Cristiano Ronaldo.

Bottom: Casemiro, Marcelo, Dani Carvajal, Isco, Luka Modric.


‘The Dream Team’

Barcelona didn’t win their first European Cup until 1992, but the wait was finally brought to an end by Cruyff and his star-studded ‘Dream Team’.

Featuring the likes of Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov and Guardiola, the Catalan club defeated Sampdoria at Wembley in the ’92 final.

Top: Andoni Zubizarreta, Miguel Angel Nadal, Ronald Koeman, Michael Laudrup, Hristo Stoichkov.

Bottom: Jose Mari Bakero, Eusebio, Pep Guardiola, Juan Carlos, Albert Ferrer and Txiki Begiristain.


‘Arrigo Sacchi's AC Milan’

AC Milan were the best team in the world during the late-1980s, led by the brilliant Arrigo Sacchi, who is regarded as one of the best coaches ever.

They won the 1989 and 1990 European Cup finals, defeating Steaua Bucharest and Benfica in the process.

The names of the world-class players in this team - including Paolo Maldini, Marco van Basten and Ruud Gullit - reel off the tongue.

Top: Paolo Maldini, Marco van Basten, Galli, Carlo Ancelotti, Ruud Gullit, Frank Rijkaard.

Bottom: Roberto Donadoni, Franco Baresi, Alberico Evani, Angelo Colombo, Mauro Tassotti.


‘Ajax's game changers’

Prior to managing the Netherlands, Michels first made his name with Ajax, who won the European Cup in 1971, 1972 and 1973 under the revered Dutchman.

With Cruyff pulling the strings, Ajax cemented their status as the most exciting team in world football.

Top: Barry Hulshoff, Heinz Stuy, Nico Rijnders, Dick van Dijk, Arnold Muhren.

Bottom: Piet Keizer, Sjaak Swart, Wim Suurbier, Velibor Vasovic, Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens.


‘Pele's Santos’

Santos had Pele in their ranks, so they were automatically big business during the early-1960s, when they won back-to-back Copa Libertadores titles.

Perhaps not the best club side we’ve ever seen, but they’re certainly worth of a mention.

Top: Lima, Zito, Dalmo, Calvet, Gilmar, Mourao.

Bottom: Dorval, Mengalvio, Coutinho, Pele and Pepe.



GIVEMESPORT’S Rob Swan says:

There are some notable omissions from Marca’s list which deserve a mention.

Manchester United’s 1999 treble-winning team, boasting one of the greatest midfield quartets (David Beckham, Roy Keane, Paul Scholes and Ryan Giggs) in history, surely should have made the 11.

United’s 2008 Champions League winners were also a formidable team, boasting an attacking trio of Wayne Rooney, Carlos Tevez and Cristiano Ronaldo.


Liverpool’s team in the mid-1980s were also exceptional, featuring the likes of Ian Rush, Kenny Dalglish and Alan Hansen.

France, inspired by Zinedine Zidane, were also a tremendous team in 1998 (when they won the World Cup) and 2000 (when they won the European Championships).

French player Zinedine Zidane (C), holdi

And finally, what about Arsenal’s legendary ‘Invincibles’ side from 2003/04? Had they won the Champions League, they’d certainly be in the conversation for the greatest team of all time.

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