Robin Hackett of ESPN Soccernet posted a list today of the Greatest XI teams in history. It is a ridiculous list. I would go so far as to call it biased. Allegedly it is a list of “some of the greatest sides of their era.” Here are ESPN’s top XI (not counting the current Barcelona side that inspired the list):
1. Preston (1888-89)
2. Italy (1934-38)
3. Sweden (1942-48)
4. Hungary (1950-56)
5. Real Madrid (1955-60)
6. Brazil (1970)
7. Ajax (1970-73)
8. Netherlands (1974)
9. Bayern Munich (1974-76)
10. Liverpool (1977-84)
11. AC Milan (1989-95)
Now, if you are paying even the slightest bit of attention, you will notice that 10 of the 11 teams are European. The lone exception is Brazil 1970, widely regarded as the greatest side ever assembled. But seriously? No other South American side deserves to be on this list? That is borderline offensive. Especially given that Sweden and Preston made the cut.*
Here are nine of the South American teams that the Euro-centric Soccernet completely overlooked.
1. Uruguay (1924-1930): The first truly great international side in history (sorry England and Scotland, but you know it’s true.) The Uruguayans won the 1924 and 1928 Olympics, utterly dominating all the Europeans in the process and showing them what dazzling football was. Then for good measure Uruguay won the first World Cup, beating arch-rival Argentina.
2. River Plate (1941-47): The foremost practitioners of Argentina’s beloved La Nuestra. In the early 1940’s, River’s famed La Máquina won three Argentinian championships. How good was La Máquina? Alfredo Di Stéfano was a backup until 1947.
3. Brazil (1958): Gilmar, Nilton Santos, Djalma Santos, Bellini, Orlando, Didi, Zagallo, Garrincha, Zito, Vavá, Pelé. Need I say more?
4. Santos (1962-63): Pelé’s great team at it zenith, they won the Copa Libertadores twice in a row. Could credibly claim to be the best side in the world after twice beating Europeans Cup winners (Benfica in 1962 and Milan in 1963) in the Intercontinental Cup at a time when that tournament actually meant something.
5. Estudiantes de La Plata (1968-70): Possibly football’s first international villains and the creators of anti-futbol. Also the first side to win the Copa Libertadores three times in a row.
6. Argentina (1978): After the dominance of Estudiantes, César Luis Menotti brought a modern version of La Nuestra back to Argentina. A side so good that a teenage Maradona did not make the cut.
7. Flamengo (1981): Zico’s Flamengo won the Copa Libertadores and then for good measure beat Liverpool (the top team in Europe) in the Intercontinental Cup .
8. Brazil (1982): Sure they never won anything, but neither did the Netherlands in 1974. This Brazil squad, which included Zico, Sócrates, and Falcão, is considered one of the finest to ever be assembled, the living embodiment of Jogo Bonito and Futebol Arte. Purists of the game still mourn this squad’s all too early exit from the 1982 World Cup (and the 1986 World Cup.)
9. Brazil (2002): Led by the Three R’s (Ronaldo, Rivaldo, Ronaldinho), Brazil recovered from a very weak qualification campaign to dominate the World Cup. This is currently the the last South American side to win the World Cup (or make the finals.) In 2002, Brazil become the only national team to win the World Cup on four different continents (South America, Europe, North America, Asia).
These are just a few of the great South American squads that ESPN overlooked in forming a Greatest XI. There are definitely others worthy of mention. While one cannot quibble with some of ESPN’s inclusions (Brazil, Hungary, Madrid, Ajax, Milan) the greatest South American sides are certainly more qualified than what Robin Hackett’s lazy article would have you believe.
* This is not to say these are even necessarily the finest European sides. Spain 2008-10, France 1998-2000, Germany 1974-76, Grande Inter, Il Grande Torino, the Barcelona Dream Team squad, and the Austrian Wunderteam are some of the others who could have been considered.
Music That I Listened to While Writing This Post: World Football Daily Podcast.