Greatest soccer team of all time: Cristian Arcos
AS Chile columnist Cristian Arcos chooses his greatest ever football team as part of our Legends XI series.
Over the past fortnight, AS has been asking prominent journalists and experts to pick their best football team of all time, as we try to pin down the 11 greatest players to have ever taken to the field. Once every team has been named, a final AS Legends XI will be drawn up, based on which players were included the most times across all the sides.
Cristian Arcos' XI
AS Chile columnist Cristian Arcos is the next member of the jury to choose an all-time XI.
Goalkeeper: Gianluigi Buffon
Conceded only twice, an own goal and a penalty, as Italy captured the 2006 World Cup in Germany. Among his heroics were stops from Lukas Podolski in the semi-final and then from Zinedine Zidane in the final. Buffon had another great tournament at Euro 2012, captaining Italy to the final only to lose 4-0 to Spain in Kyiv. In the summer of 2001, the legendary shot-stopper became the world's most expensive goalkeeper, with Juventus signing him for over €50m. He landed the Scudetto in his first term in Turin.
Central defender: Elías Figueroa
Named the best South American defender of the 20th century by the International Federation of Football History and Statistics, Figueroa played for Chile at three World Cups - 1966, 1974 and 1982 - and featured in the team of the tournament at West Germany ’74. As well as winning 47 international caps, he enjoyed a successful club career both in Chile and abroad, lifting silverware not only with Santiago club Palestino, but also Uruguayans Peñarol and Brazil’s Internacional. In 2004, Pelé included him in his list of the 125 greatest living footballers.
Central defender: Franz Beckenbauer
Known as 'Der Kaiser' because of his imperious defensive play, Beckenbauer earned over 100 caps for West Germany from 1965 to 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 Germans 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: Paolo Maldini
The son of AC Milan’s first European Cup-winning captain, Cesare, Paolo Maldini helped the Rossoneri add a further five continental titles to their trophy cabinet during a 25-year career at the San Siro, twice as skipper himself. Italy’s third-most capped player with 126 appearances, Maldini twice finished on the Ballon d’Or podium; only three other defenders have made the top three this century. His son, Daniele, has now become the third generation of Maldini to play for Milan.
Central midfielder: Xavi Hernández
String puller-in-chief for two of the finest teams the men’s game has ever witnessed, World Cup winner Xavi is arguably the leading exponent of the possession-based ‘tiki-taka’ style of play that defined the all-conquering Barcelona and Spain sides of the late noughties and early 2010s. With 767 Barça appearances to his name, Xavi - who is now coach of Qatari side Al-Sadd - has played more games for the Catalan giants than anyone else.
Attacking midfielder: Johan Cruyff
An Ajax and Barcelona great, Cruyff is one of the game’s most influential figures. The genesis of the legendary Barça side managed by Pep Guardiola can be traced back to the Dutchman’s arrival at the Camp Nou - first as a player, then as a coach. Captain of a Netherlands side among the finest not to win the World Cup, he was named the best player at West Germany ’74 after leading the Dutch to the final. It was a tournament where he also introduced the world to his eponymous turn.
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.
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
One half of the individual duopoly that has dominated men’s football over the past 15 years or so, Messi has plundered an eye-watering, club-record 650 goals for Barcelona since his first-team debut in 2004 - including 455 in LaLiga, more than any other player - and has helped the Catalans to four Champions Leagues and no fewer than 10 Spanish titles. Winner of an unprecedented six Ballons d’Or, 'La Pulga' is also the Argentina national team’s all-time leading marksman with 71 goals.
Forward: Ronaldo Nazário
At his peak, Ronaldo’s combination of pace, power, skill and finishing led him to be described as footballer-meets-Robocop, one memorable solo goal for Barcelona perfectly illustrating such superhero comparisons. Sadly, a succession of injuries took a physical toll on the striker, but he still racked up over 350 goals in a club career that also included spells at Real Madrid, Inter and AC Milan. In 2002, he enjoyed his finest hour (if not his finest haircut) when his eight goals were instrumental in winning Brazil’s fifth World Cup.
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.