Top 10 World Cup-winning teams
In 1970 Brazil played some of the most inventive attacking soccer in history
The legendary Pele was part of the both the '58 and '70 Brazil teams
The West German squad of 1990 was arguably the best European team ever
There's an argument to be made that the best team doesn't necessarily win the World Cup in any given tournament. However of the great teams that did become champion, here's a subjective list of the top 10:
1. Brazil 1970
It's rare to achieve consensus with regard to the greatest in any creative pursuit, but few would suggest that this was not the finest soccer team of them all. This was utopia, joga bonito in excelsis. Brazil's defense may have been ropey, but it hardly mattered when it had a front five blessed with a collective sixth sense and unbelievable talent: Rivelino, Gerson, Jairzinho, Tostao and Pele. They managed 19 invariably sublime goals in six mythical games, as well as the coolest goal that never was. It all culminated in a stunning 4-1 demolition of Italy in the final. There was never been a team like this, and probably never will be.
2. Brazil 1958
A change can do you good. It can also win you a World Cup. Brazil looked a decent side for its first two games of the 1958 World Cup, but once it introduced two youngsters called Garrincha and Pele (a boy mountain at 17), it was a class apart. Both hit the woodwork in the first two minutes of their first game, against the USSR, with Vava scoring in the third. Brazil never looked back, romping to its first World Cup with 5-2 victories in both the semifinal against France and the final against Sweden. This team had almost everything: Garrincha's devastatingly direct wing play, Pele's muscular genius, Didi's high-definition passing in midfield, Nilton Santos, arguably the greatest ever left back, and Mario Zagallo doing the work of two men on the left wing. With better center backs, they might even be a match for the 1970 side.
3. Uruguay 1950
Winning a World Cup is not just about exerting your superiority. Having gone behind in three of its four games, most notably the legendary final match against Brazil in the Maracana, Uruguay had to dig deep in 1950. Thankfully it had an endless well of inspiration in its captain, Obdurio Varela, a master of all trades who was equally adept in defense or midfield. Juan Alberto Schiaffino was a legendary center forward, and the sinuous right-winger Alcides Ghiaggia scored in all four games. On defense, Victor Rodrigues Andrade was a true great, while the goalkeeper, Roque Maspoli, had perhaps his finest hour in that victory over Brazil. That he needed to produce such a performance showed again that victory did not come easily for Uruguay, but it was a triumph of the human spirit.
4. West Germany 1990
The power team par excellence. It may have peaked a touch early, scoring only three goals in its last three games, but the demolitions of Yugoslavia and Holland were chillingly emphatic. All its defenders were comfortable on the ball, most notably the wonderfully two-footed left wing-back Andreas Brehme; Jurgen Klinsmann and Rudi Voller were a crafty, indefatigable and undeniably world-class front pair; and the captain Lothar Matthaus, supported by a number of diminutive schemers, was a monstrous all-round midfielder at the very peak of his powers.
5. Italy 1938
2010 World Cup
The first side to retain the World Cup, this was Italy 2.0. Its remarkable coach, Vittorio Pozzo, built on the grizzled team that had won the World Cup on home soil in 1934. He kept only Giuseppe Meazza and Giovanni Ferrari, most notably adding significant attacking ability in the tall shape of Silvio Piola. The Italians had a scare in the first round, when they were outplayed by Norway before sneaking by in extra time. Pozzo made three vital changes after that match, and Italy was rarely in trouble again. It put out the hosts France in the quarterfinals -- in a politically poisonous atmosphere, whipped up further when Italy wore black shirts rather than its usual change strip of white -- before beating Brazil and then Hungary in the final.
6. Brazil 1962
A diluted version of 1958, because of an injury to Pele, but that still meant a very potent mix: the predatory Vava, Zagallo, Didi -- and particularly Garrincha, who was in the form of his life. He scored twice in wins over England in the quarterfinal and Chile in the semifinal, when he was also sent off. Brazil won its knockout games 3-1, 4-2 and 3-1 again in the final against Czechoslovakia. Even without Pele, it was far too good.
7. Italy 1982
A World Cup may be a four-week sprint, but it can have the narrative of a marathon. In 1982, Italy looked miles off the pace, when it failed to win a single game in the first group stages, but Claudio Gentile's infamous marking job on Diego Maradona in a 3-1 win over the champions kickstarted the tournament. The Italians disposed of the favorite Brazil in a classic and, by the time they thrashed West Germany 3-1 in the final, they looked the best team by some distance. Nobody encapsulated their ability to peak at the right moment better than Paolo Rossi; banned for almost two years in the lead-up to the tournament because of a match-fixing scandal, he failed to score in the first four games -- and then hit six in the last three to claim the Golden Boot.
8. West Germany 1974
The misunderstood villains of World Cup history, vilified for breaking the hearts of romantics the world over when they beat Holland's Total Footballers in the final. Yet this was an equally accomplished West German side. It may have been at its absolute best two years earlier, when it romped to the European Championship, but this was still a side peppered with true greats, most notably the goalkeeper Sepp Maier, the peerless libero Franz Beckenbauer, and the astonishing striker Gerd Muller. After scoring the winner in the final, Muller retired from international soccer after the final with a record of 68 goals in 62 games. The Gemans were not at their best for much of this World Cup, famously losing to East Germany in the group stage, but they delivered when it really mattered. They beat an excellent Poland side 1-0 in what was effectively a semifinal, and then steeled themselves to come from behind to overcome Holland 2-1 in the final.
9. Brazil 1994
It might have been a Brazil side in name more than nature, with a cautious system that was heavily dependent on the mischievous genius of Romario up front, but it was easily the best team in the tournament. Its underrated captain Dunga ruled with an iron fist in midfield, and there was a formidable certainty about this team. You always felt it was in control: even when it went down to 10 men in the first half against the U.S., even when Holland came back from 2-0 down to equalize in the quarterfinal, even when the final against Italy went to the supposed lottery of penalties. Few World Cup winners have had such an obvious sense of destiny.
10. Argentina 1986
The phrase "one-man team" may be an oxymoron, but it is only slightly disrespectful to say that this World Cup was won by Diego Maradona and 10 lackeys. No soccer player has dominated a major tournament like this. He scored both goals in the quarterfinal against England and the semifinal against Belgium, including a mind-blowing individual effort in each game to go with his controversial "Hand of God" goal against England. Then, after a relatively quiet performance in the final against West Germany, he made the winning goal for Jorge Burruchaga with a stunning pass. Twenty-two Argentinians can legitimately say they won the World Cup in 1986, but there was nothing equal about their contribution. However, with Maradona being the 23rd, this team could beat anyone on its day.
Rob Smyth has written for The Guardian, FourFourTwo, the official Manchester United magazine, Intelligent Life and GQ Style. His favorite players are Gerd Muller, Roy Keane and Preben Elkjaer.
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