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AS LEGENDS XI

Greatest soccer team of all time: Luis Nieto

Diario AS journalist and deputy director, Luis Nieto, chooses his all-time greatest XI as part of the AS Legends XI series.

We continue our series as leading Spanish journalists and football experts offer their best team of all time and try and pin down the 11 greatest players to have ever graced a football pitch. Once all 11 teams have been named, a final AS Legends XI will be drawn up, based on which players were included the most times across all the sides.

Luis Nieto's XI

Diario AS journalist and deputy director, Luis Nieto is next up to name his all time best XI.

Goalkeeper: Iker Casillas

Spain’s World Cup-winning captain, Casillas was dubbed ‘Saint Iker’ for his habit of producing miraculous saves, the most iconic of which saw him deny Arjen Robben a seemingly certain goal in the 2010 final against the Netherlands. He was a three-time European champion with Real Madrid, where he established himself as a club great over the course of more than 700 appearances.

Right back: Cafú

Cafú is the only player to have appeared in three World Cup finals, winning the 1994 and 2002 editions of the tournament. The former AC Milan player remains the most capped Brazil international of all time with 142 appearances and is one of only 11 players to have lifted both the Champions League and Copa Libertadores, which he won with Milan (2007) and Sao Paulo (1992, 1993), respectively.

Central defender: Franz Beckenbauer

Beckenbauer or 'Der Kaiser' (The Emperor) as he was known for his assured style of defensive play secured over 100 caps for West Germany from 1965-1977 and was captain as the host nation secured the 1974 World Cup with a 2-1 win over The Netherlands. Beckenbauer would repeat the feat as head coach of the German side at Italia '90. The defender made over 400 appearances with Bayern Munich before winding down his career as a player in the. NASL with New York Cosmos.

Central defender: Franco Baresi

Having worked his way up through the AC Milan youth ranks, Franco Baresi spent his entire 20-year career at the club (1977 to 1997), during which he won six Serie A and three European Cup/Champions League titles. In 1982 he won the World Cup with Italy and was a runner-up in 1994. At Milan, the 1989 Ballon d’Or winner was part of one history’s most formidable defensive units, alongside Paolo Maldini, Alessandro Costacurta, Mauro Tassotti, Filippo Galli and later Christian Panucci.

Left-back: Roberto Carlos

Best remembered for goals such as this angle-defying howitzer and, of course, THAT free-kick, Roberto Carlos went down as a Real Madrid great in an 11-year stay at the Bernabéu that brought three Champions League triumphs. Until December, his tally of 527 appearances for Madrid was a record for a non-Spaniard. Part of Brazil’s 2002 World Cup-winning side, the 125-time capped left-back is, together with Maldini, one of a select band of defenders to have finished in the Ballon d’Or top three.

Midfielder: Michel Platini

Regarded by many as France’s greatest-ever player, Michel Platini won three Balon d’Or trophies during his career, one of only three players to do so behind Lionel Messi (six times) and Cristiano Ronaldo (five times). During his career, Platini played for Nancy, Saint-Étienne, and Juventus, where he was the club’s top scorer in their victorious 1984–85 European Cup campaign. During his career, he scored 232 goals in 432 appearances.

Attacking midfielder: Diego Maradona

Maradona, who died at the age of 60 in November, is best remembered for dragging what was widely considered a run-of-the-mill Argentina side to World Cup victory in 1986. His five goals at the tournament in Mexico included perhaps the cheekiest of all time, followed four minutes later by perhaps the greatest of all time. This tribute from Gary Lineker, whose England team were on the wrong end of those two strikes, really sums up just how good he was.

Midfielder: Pelé

Known as ‘O Rei’ (‘The King’), Pelé won three World Cups with Brazil after bursting onto the international stage as a 17-year-old at Sweden ’58. A wildly prolific goalscorer, he remains Brazil’s leading marksman with 77, while his total of 643 strikes for Santos was a record single-club haul until Barcelona’s Lionel Messi surpassed the figure in December.

Forward: Lionel Messi

The other half of the individual duopoly that has dominated men’s football over the past 15 years or so, Messi has plundered an eye-watering 648 goals for Barcelona since his first-team debut in 2004, helping the club to four Champions Leagues and no fewer than 10 LaLiga titles. Winner of a record six Ballons d’Or, he is also Argentina’s all-time highest goalscorer with 71.

Forward: Cristiano Ronaldo

A five-time Ballon d’Or winner, Cristiano Ronaldo has, together with Messi, been the defining men’s footballer of his era. Now at Juventus, the Portugal star is Real Madrid’s all-time top scorer and this month overtook Czech striker Josef Bican’s world-record tally of 759 career goals for club and country. He became only the second male footballer to reach 100 international goals in September.

Forward: Alfredo Di Stéfano

Los Blancos’ greatest ever player, Di Stéfano was the leader of the Real Madrid side that won each of the first five European Cups between 1956 and 1960. Often referred to as a ‘todocampista’ (‘whole-fielder’) because of his all-encompassing influence on games, he led Sir Bobby Charlton to exclaim: “I’d never seen anything like it before […], everything went through him.”