The World Cup has been held 19 times in 16 nations on five continents. And eight countries have won soccer’s ultimate prize, five of them more than once. But those numbers can’t answer one question: which teams were the best? Here’s one man’s list of the top 10 World Cup teams of all time:
1. Brazil 1970: The South American country had already won two titles and would go on to win two more. But the 1970 team that won the third of Brazil’s record five World Cups is widely considered the best, winning its six games and outscoring opponents, 19-7, behind a lineup that featured Pele, Jairzinho, Tostao, Rivelino and Carlos Alberto.
2. West Germany 1974: This team owes part of its pedigree to beating the revolutionary Dutch squad that introduced the concept of “Total Football.” But the Germans were a superb group in their own right, featuring a taut defense anchored by Franz Beckenbauer and goalie Sepp Maier, one of the greatest goalkeepers of all time. Up front was Gerd Mueller, who scored four goals, including the World Cup winner.
3. France 1998: Not only was France unbeaten in the tournament, but it outscored opponents, 15-2, in seven games and swamped Brazil, 3-0, to win the title, equaling the most one-sided final in World Cup history. The French weren’t necessarily flashy but they were fundamentally sound behind Thierry Henry, Zinedine Zidane, Didier Deschamps and Laurent Blanc.
4. Brazil 2002: The only Brazilian team to win seven games in one tournament cruised to the title, outscoring opponents, 18-4, and giving up only one goal in the knockout round. Ronaldo had his finest tournament, scoring eight times and teammate Rivaldo had five goals.
5. Italy 1982: Perhaps the gutsiest team on this list, Italy didn’t win a group game, surviving by playing to three draws. But it caught fire after that, beating Brazil and Argentina in the second round before winning its semifinal and the final games each by two-goal margins. Paolo Rossi led the tournament with six goals, including a hat trick against Brazil, to give Italy its first World Cup title since World War II.
6. Hungary 1954: The only team on this list that didn’t win the tournament, Hungary was beaten as much by the weather as it was by the Germans in what has become known as “The Miracle at Bern.” Hungary, which played an unusual 4-2-4 formation, entered the tournament unbeaten over five years and 32 games, then added an 8-3 rout of Germany in group play. But the final was played in a heavy rain and the Germans, wearing revolutionary cleats supplied by a fledgling company named Adidas, rallied from a 2-0 deficit after eight minutes to win when Ferenc Puskas’ tying goal with two minutes left in regulation was waved off by a phantom offside call.
7. Spain 2010: Perhaps the most clinical World Cup champion of all time, Spain carved up the competition behind a methodical precision passing game known as tiki-taka. After losing their opener, the Spanish ran the table, winning all four of its knockout games by identical 1-0 scores — including the final, which was scoreless until Andres Iniesta tallied 26 minutes into overtime.
8. Argentina 1986: Argentina won its second title in three tournaments behind Diego Maradona, who had some help from God. Maradona scored all four of Argentina’s goals in victories over England and Belgium, including two of the most celebrated in World Cup history only four minutes apart. The first, which ended a scoreless tie with England early in the second half, came on a clear handball, with Maradona punching the ball past goalkeeper Peter Shilton, a goal the Argentine credited partially to “the hand of God.” The second was even more divine, with Maradona dribbling half the length of the field while eluding five English defenders to score what would be voted the goal of the century.
9. Uruguay 1930: The first World Cup tournament was also among the smallest, with only 13 nations participating. But you can’t fault Uruguay for that. The South Americans, already recognized as the world’s best team on the strength of Olympic titles in 1924 and 1928, rolled through the tiny field unbeaten, outscoring opponents, 15-4, and winning the final over neighboring Argentina.
10. England 1966: The English claim to have invented the sport, yet they’ve won soccer’s premier tournament only once. They couldn’t have made their one victory much more dramatic, though, going unbeaten and winning the final on two Geoff Hurst goals in overtime in the only World Cup played on their home turf.