Greatest soccer team of all time: Sarah Castro
AS Colombia director Sarah Castro chooses her 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.
Sarah Castro's XI
AS Colombia director Sarah Castro 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.
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.
Central defender: Daniel Passarella
Captain of the Argentina’s 1978 World Cup-winning team, Daniel Passarella spent nine years at River Plate (1973-1982) before a six-year spell in Italy with Fiorentina (1982-1986) and Inter Milan (1986-1988). He then returned to River Plate for one final season before his retirement in 1989. He previously held the record for history’s top scoring defender, with 134 goals in 451 matches, a record that was later broke Dutch defender Ronald Koeman (253 goals). He also won a World Cup medal in 1986 but had at that point passed the captain’s armband to Diego Maradonna.
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.
Right-back: Carlos Alberto
Carlos Alberto captained a Brazil side widely considered to be international football’s greatest ever to World Cup glory in 1970. His rifled finish rounded off what is arguably the finest team goal of all time as the Brazilians demolished Italy 4-1 in a memorable display in the final in Mexico.
Defensive midfielder: Lothar Matthäus
One of just three footballers to play at five World Cups, Matthäus skippered West Germany to victory at Italia ’90, his dominant displays at the tournament also leading him to collect that year’s Ballon d’Or award. His country’s most-capped player, Matthäus amassed 150 appearances over the course of a 20-year international career.
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.
Two-time FIFA Player of the Year and one-time Ballon d’Or winner, Brazilian legend Ronaldinho is regarded by many as one of the greatest players of his generation. During his illustrious career, he won two LaLiga and one Champions League with Barcelona, one Serie A with Milan as well as the World Cup in 2002. Along with Neymar and Cafú, he is one of just eleven players to have won both the Champions League and the Copa Libertadores.
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.