20 Toughest Footballers on the Planet

Karla Villegas Gama@karlitsvFeatured ColumnistJanuary 19, 2012

20 Toughest Footballers on the Planet

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    There are some people who believe that soccer isn't a tough sport, but let's face it, we've seen some footballers that deserve respect.

    Controlling the ball and handling pressure from rivals is not easy. Add the responsibility hanging on their shoulders, some cool moves and strength and you'll get some pretty tough guys.

    All the way from Ukraine to the United Kingdom, soccer has some of the hardest athletes.

Didier Drogba

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    This Ivorian footballer has made quite an impact at Chelsea. He currently is the sixth-highest scorer of the club.

    With Ivory Coast he has scored 51 goals and has been capped 98 times, both are records for the team.

Michael Essien

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    The Ghanaian footballer plays for Chelsea and is one of the most powerful midfielders as he helps both the defense and the offense.

    After a surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus, Essien missed almost six months of activity, but came back 10 days ago against West Brom.

Diego Forlán

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    The Inter striker used to be an under-the-radar player until the 2010 World Cup.

    Diego showed how much of a difference he made for Uruguay and gave his best to help the team reach the semifinals, which helped him secure the Golden Ball.

Gennaro Gattuso

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    Gattuso is one of Italy's most passionate defensive midfielders, even though he has been involved in several controversies because of his temper.

    Nevertheless, he was a key player at the 2006 World Cup and has been a standard bearer for Milan, where he has played since 1999 (330 matches and 11 goals).

Xavi Hernández

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    If there's someone that handles pressure and makes the most out of small spaces, it's Barcelona's Xavi.

    He's been nominated three times for the Ballon d'Or and is the second best passer in the world according to MSN with 93 percent accuracy.

Vincenzo Iaquinta

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    Iaquinta signed a five-year contract with Juventus in 2007 and has played there ever since. Despite some rocky moments due to injuries, he managed to have a bright career with the bianconeri.

    He has appeared 40 times with the Italian national football team and he was part of the squad that claimed the 2006 World Cup.

Zlatan Ibrahimovic

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    The captain of the Swedish national team has scored 215 goals in his club career: Malmö, Ajax, Juventus, Inter, Barcelona and Milan.

    A strong and natural striker, Ibrahimovic has received the Swedish Male Athlete of the Year twice and was named part of the UEFA Team of the Year in 2007 and 2009.

Marco Materazzi

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    This veteran has played in both Serie A and the Premier League and became a fixture on the back line of the Italian national team. He's also well-known for the confrontation he had with Zinedine Zidane at the 2006 World Cup final match.

    He quickly became one of the most respectable centre backs, but also a very prolific scorer for some one who plays that position. 

Lionel Messi

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    Yes, he's the best player in the world, but besides his tricks and the way he strikes the ball, Messi is one of the toughest forwards.

    He endures tackles, pull downs, pushes, you name it, the guy just doesn't give an inch.

Thiago Motta

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    At age 29, Thiago has played for several of the world's finest clubs, including Barcelona and Internazionale. He has also been capped with Italy.

    He knows how to use his body to recover and protect the ball, which mixes perfectly with his accurate way of touching the ball. 

Oguchi Onyewu

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    The U.S. centre back currently plays for Sporting CP in Portugal. After graduating from the prestigious IMG Academy, he made his debut in France, playing for Metz, a Ligue 2 club.

    After signing with Milan in 2009, he became a player to follow and proved his skills quickly.

Carles Puyol

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    He's one of the toughest defenders out there, he fights every ball and makes the best out of his physical attributes.

    What's even better about Puyol is that he helps the offense when needed. In Wednesday's Clásico he scored a powerful header to equalize 1-1 en route to Barcelona's 2-1 win.

Franck Ribéry

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    The French winger currently plays for Bayern Munich, but has played for six others before: Marseille, Galatasaray, Metz, Brest, Alès and Boulogne.

    He's scored 101 goals in 430 appearances, including tournaments like the Coupe de France and Coupe de la Ligue, and matches with the national team.

Wayne Rooney

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    His physical attributes have set him apart as one of the toughest guys in the Premier League. He knows how to kick the ball in great ways, but also creates plays and controls the midfield.

Andriy Shevchenko

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    After 10 years away from Ukraine, Shevchenko returned to Dynamo Kyiv with a lot of experience, as he played for Milan (1999-2006; 2008-2009) and Chelsea (2006-2008; 2009-2010).

    A quick and strong striker, Shevchenko led the Ukrainian national team to the quarterfinals of the 2006 World Cup and holds the record as top scorer of the team.

Wesley Sneijder

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    Wes has been linked with Manchester United for over a year, but he's still a cornerstone of Internazionale, where he has played since 2009, when he left Real Madrid.

    Sneijder's abilities became clear at the 2010 World Cup, leading the Dutch national team, along with Robin Van Persie, to the final match.

John Terry

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    The captain of Chelsea and England was named to the All-star squad for the 2006 World Cup and has claimed UEFA Club Defender of the year three times (2005, 2008 and 2009).

    Despite his infidelity scandals, Terry has settled as one of the toughest centre backs in the game. He's appeared 515 times with Chelsea and 67 with the national team.

Robin Van Persie

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    Strength, ability and passion add up to this 28-year-old footballer who has had a brilliant career with Arsenal and the Dutch national team.

    Van Persie has scored 117 goals in 257 appearances with The Gunners, which helped him become the team's captain in August 2011. Two months later he scored the fastest goal of the season (26 seconds).

Nemanja Vidic

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    The Serbian has been a standard bearer for Manchester United since 2006. He'll miss the rest of the season due to injury, leaving Sir Alex Ferguson with some trouble on the defense.

    Vidic's strength and talent were enough to claim the captain armband.

Marcelo Vieira

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    This left back has shown his defensive and offensive abilities since 2007. He can tackle, assist and score with elegance.

    When he came from Brazilian club Fluminense, Marcelo was only 19 years old and found a place in the starting lineup a couple of years later. He has become one of Mourinho's confidence men.